Movie Review: “Murder On The Orient Express” Is Kenneth Branagh’s Pièce De Résistance

“(The movie starts) out slowly and deliberately, steadily working its way towards its satisfying conclusion, leaving the ending wide open for more Poirot adventures.”


 

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Kenneth Branagh was classically trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and directed and performed in a plethora of stage productions throughout his career. Over time, he made the transition to film and just like his stage persona, he directed and starred in many Shakespearian play adaptations which began with “Henry V” (1989), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993), “Othello” (1995), “Hamlet” (1996), “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (2000), and “As You Like It” (2006). In between Shakespeare and all of his accompanying tragedy, Branagh began to extend himself into traditional storytelling and filmmaking and helmed two of his best movies to date, “Dead Again” and “Peter’s Friends.” The former was a modern-day thriller with ties to the past and a terrific surprise twist while the latter was Branagh’s homage to Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 drama, “The Big Chill,” with me personally favoring Branagh’s adaptation.

And this brings us to his latest directorial effort, a remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express,” itself an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s book of the same name. Now, I’m not opposed to a remake from time to time, for the most part, the updated versions fare less well than the original source material but every now and again, the filmmakers manage to get it right. And this is the case with Branagh’s rendering of Agatha Christie’s classic novel. He successfully indoctrinates his love for Shakespeare by bringing along such wonderful stage actors like Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi while at the same time, adding big-name stars like Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, and Michelle Pfeiffer into the mix, with decidedly satisfying results.

Branagh plays Hercule Poirot, the world-renowned Belgian detective who is considered the greatest in his profession. He has solved every single case he has ever accepted but his latest may very well change that outcome. It is the 1930s and Poirot is in Jerusalem wrapping up his most recent case. While getting ready to make his way home for some much-needed relaxation, he is asked to return to London instead to take on a murder case. As he begins his journey back to Europe on the Orient Express, a trip which will take three days, on the first night, a passenger by the name of Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is murdered. On top of that, an avalanche through the Swiss Alps strands the train and all of its patrons, including the killer. At this point, Bouc (Tom Bateman), a friend of Poirot’s who is also the director of the Orient Express, asks him to take on this case before the Yugoslav police arrive who, he says, will more than likely just pick one culprit to get it over and done with. Poirot initially refuses but for the sake of his old friend, he eventually complies.

What follows next is a game of cat and mouse as Poirot interviews each passenger, their possible connection to the murder victim, and their potential motives. As the minutes turn into hours, and the hours into days, everyone begins to suffer from cabin fever and just when Poirot thinks he has his suspect, the tables are turned on him and for the first time in his life, he fears that he will not be able to solve the mystery. When one of the passengers makes an off-the-cuff remark toward him, suddenly everything falls into place and as his sleuthing dexterity returns, he gradually begins to realize that everyone on the train had a connection to Ratchett and that there may be more than one killer.

I saw the 1974 film on TV many years ago when I was a kid and out of the entire feature, the ending is what stuck out the most so going into this version, sadly, I already knew the outcome but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the build-up to the grand finale. While much of the movie transpires on the train, there is some absolutely stunning cinematography of the Swiss Alps as we follow the train on its voyage from Istanbul to Paris. Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos utilize old-school filmmaking techniques such as luscious, wide angles and slow tracking shots instead of resorting to the much-hated hand-held approach that has a tendency to cause nausea when projected onto the big screen. With the train stranded at the opening of a tunnel, surrounded by majestic snowy scenery, Branagh still manages to infuse the film with a certain amount of claustrophobia, while his onscreen alter-ego takes advantage of the same component to help further his investigation, causing suspects to crack and crumble. If you are a fan of fast-paced action and explosions, you might want to give this one a miss, it is the exact opposite, starting out slowly and deliberately, steadily working its way towards its satisfying conclusion, leaving the ending wide open for more Poirot adventures.

In theaters Friday, November 10th


 

James McDonald

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience in the film industry as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.

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