UK Release Date: 3rd November 2017
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Tom Bateman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton
Synopsis: After a brutal murder aboard a luxury train, the world’s greatest detective must work out which passenger was responsible.
There’s always a collective sigh from fans when a beloved and well-worn story gets another go-round on the big screen. Murder on the Orient Express is perhaps Agatha Christie’s most famous work and it has been adapted dozens of times, most notably in 1974, when Albert Finney played the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. This time, it’s Kenneth Branagh taking the lead both behind the camera and in front of it, boasting an outrageous Belgian accent and an even more outrageous facial rug so unfathomably dense it could run for President of the United States.
Branagh’s Poirot is simply out for a quiet life when we meet him, fresh from solving a case in Jerusalem. A friend allows him to hitch a ride to London on the eponymous luxury train, but there’s soon a dead criminal (Johnny Depp) in one cabin and a shifty selection of guests denying all involvement. The dead man’s employees (Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi) soon reveal a selection of reasons the killing could’ve taken place, and it quickly transpires many of those on board have secrets of their own from the innocent governess (Daisy Ridley) to the prim princess (Judi Dench) and flirtatious Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Thankfully, Branagh’s moustache proves to be a microcosm of his film as a whole – a knowingly ridiculous extravagance. Branagh doesn’t so much take a bite out of the scenery as he does consume it as part of a decadent gourmet meal. His Poirot is a defiantly silly anchor point for the central plot to revolve around, culminating in the classic final reveal that sees all of the suspects assemble to watch Poirot’s flamboyant grandstanding. From the moment he refers to a couple of eggs as “perfectly good oeufs” in an early scene, it’s clear this character is in enjoyably safe hands.
Branagh as a director is someone who always knows exactly what film he is making. He has turned on the gravitas for Shakespeare, brought high-fantasy style to Thor, planted tongue firmly in cheek for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and embraced fairytale elegance for Cinderella. He displays a similar awareness in Murder on the Orient Express, which visually mashes together old-fashioned environs with kinetic camerawork and some admittedly ropey CGI.
It’s tonally where the film really shines, though, in embracing what makes the story so entertaining. This isn’t a high-class, prestige story with nuance and thematic depth; it’s a head-scratching whodunnit. Branagh, therefore, simply winds the thing up like clockwork and allows the roulette wheel of suspects to spin, with skeletons tumbling out of closets as it does so. The cast are completely on board with this and duly crank everything up a level above normal, with Michelle Pfeiffer the standout as the permanently paranoid Mrs Hubbard. Credit must also go to Sing Street star Lucy Boynton, who makes the most of a brief appearance with a beguiling performance.
There’s very little in Murder on the Orient Express that you won’t have seen before, but this is a film designed without question for those who are not familiar with the subject matter. Branagh helms the movie as if its rug-pulls and surprises are completely new to everyone, bringing the sense of flamboyant fun that such an overblown mystery plot needs in 2017, when the notion of a screen detective without a stylised ‘mind palace’ is faintly ridiculous. It embraces a family-friendly certificate and, arriving just in time for Christmas, it has the definite feel of a night out that everybody can enjoy.
Pop or Poop?
It won’t win over fans of the Finney version with a new take on the material, but Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is a wild big screen mystery that marries the modern with the classic. The performances from the A-list ensemble are very impressive and Branagh coats the entire thing with a glazing of flamboyant camp that makes it impossible not to have a really good time.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.