By Brad Haynes
Murder On The Orient Express
★★★ out of ★★★★
In 1974, Sidney Lumet directed a star-studded adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express that brought about a renewed interest in the work of Christie, and saw plenty more movies adapted from her work in the years to come.
It’s now 2017 and another director, Kenneth Branagh, not only directs the latest version of Christie’s who-dunnit but stars as mustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, offering up a stylish return to the classic murder mystery set in the 30s, with a few modern twists.
Branagh makes for a delightful Inspector Poirot, with a mustache that pretty much takes on a life of his own. After solving a crime in Jerusalem, Poirot is ready for a break when he runs into a rakish old aquaintance, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who convinces him to spend some down time on the touring train he is overseeing, the Orient Express.
The cinematography in the film is stunning, and the opening shot of the train as it begins its journey is amazing, as is the introductory shot with the camera trailing through the train introducing the main players as they become acquainted with Poirot.
One of the initial characters to confide in Poirot is a somewhat sleazy American art dealer by the fitting name of Ratchett (a sleazy Johnny Depp, struggling to get away from the Jack Sparrow persona), who is certain that he may be in danger and seeks Poirot’s watchful eye to keep him protected.
Shortly after his refusal to help, Ratchett ends up dead and Poirot has a new mystery solve along with a slew of suspects.
Those suspects include: Ratchett’s secretary (Josh Gad), his butler (Derek Jacobi), a governess (Daisy Ridley), a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), an Austrian professor (Willem Dafoe), a glamorous widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), a missionary (Penelope Cruz), a Russian princess (Judi Dench) and her maid (Olivia Colman), a Latin chauffeur (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a married couple of dancing royalty (Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton).
Soon it is revealed that Ratchett was not who he appeared to be at all, as Poirot goes about his job of deducing who the killer could be.
Branagh keeps the film’s pace moving briskly, never lagging as a new suspect is interrogated by the intrepid detective. And the all-star cast are sufficiently entertaining as the suspects, with Pfeiffer and Dafoe standing out amongst them. Somewhat odd was the decision to change the race of the doctor, played by Broadway muscial Hamilton star Odom, requiring even more exposition for the character than actually seemed necessary.
Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is a fun diversion for a trip to the movies, but leaves little to linger in the mind afterward and the film’s conclusion is rather implausible. Nevertheless, it’s a fun period piece allowing for enjoyable escapism at the movies.
The Good: Branagh is great as Poirot, and his all-star cast all appear to have a blast.
The Bad: It may be a little stodgy for some, particularly audiences more accustomed to super heroes and the supernatural.
The Final Word: If you’re looking for a diversion from reality for a couple hours, you could do worse than a trip on the Orient Express.
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench. Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.