Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr.
A packed Friday night screening jostling with curiosity from a varied audience sees Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ as an impressive turnout for the classic enigma’s opening night, prompting a relentless interest we as a nation have in a good whodunit with an itch to solve the crime before the protagonist. Furrowed brows, swift chuckles and an envy for lavish conduct awaits on this expedition, but instead of partaking in the detective work more is to be gained from kicking off Jessica Fletcher’s slippers and settling for spectator as a sedative to preclude headache.
Previously made for the big screen in 1974 by Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ joins Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective in the world on his most puzzling case, becoming the sole investigator of a murder on-board the long-distance passenger train while travelling on its isolating journey from Istanbul across Europe. Transporting an opulent array of passengers, it’s Poirot’s duty to catch the killer before arrival and keep his head above its surrounding secrecy.
Humour is not a common factor when it comes to productions in the crime genre of late, however Poirot’s resume equips us for a level of tongue-in-cheek quips that colour his meticulous problem solving and is a component that’s used to the advantage of Kenneth Branagh’s retelling. Performing on and off camera validates the skippers acting flair and stability with directing, not to mention his dazzling blue eyes that looked as if the universe existed within them against the niveous scenery. Comic timing contrived on both sides of the 65mm camera remained impeccably placed from the outset and operated as the features redeeming asset when the plot bottle necked but ultimately became a distant memory during the last quarter. Branagh’s emphasis on Poirot’s obsessive trait towards “unbearable” imperfections addressed an insecurity that stuck, despite being labelled unshakeable and supplied a quirk to the police work.
Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad kept the 1930’s current for modern day viewing and worked a vital freshness into the timeless mystery that was threatened with regenerated humdrum. Ridley’s Mary Debenham teases with a bubbly demeanour but is frequently deprived of independence, while Gad’s theatrical background sufficiently peddles his engagement as the shady MacQueen. Pfeiffer and Depp remain sturdy as the backbone to a polished cast while maintaining the progressive gravitas alongside Branagh, unlike Dame Judi Dench who became outclassed by her servant Olivia Coleman, whose fleeting but expressive role surpassed Dench’s few humorous lines. Performances from a dreary Cruz, and doctor on-board Leslie Odom Jr. are forgotten amongst larger personalities, adding extra baggage to an already crowded compartment that demanded extra scrutiny.
A long-winded introduction presenting the movie as a character piece rather than a wholesome thriller emerged as wasted time when arriving at the films core, presenting the crime’s foundation as a careless interjection into the narrative which ultimately caused a detachment from Poirot’s deliberating, abandoning all hope of solving the puzzle with him. This late addition of a critical layer to the plot, combined with a plethora of identities and jigsaw pieces caused major brain cramps when tasked to juggle them all at once, all the while trying to decipher Branagh’s often incomprehensible speech that muddled a decent French accent every time Hercule got excited. A retrospective scene delved into a fitting noir-scope which brought punch to the denouement and bound any loose ends, but stretched into a dragging conclusion that begged for the inspector’s no-nonsense psyche to halt its runaway manner.
Hair-raising scenery of snowy mountains and vertigo-summoning drops were efficient in contrast to a packed locomotive interior, with credible cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos (‘Thor’) and Rebecca Alleway’s (‘The Duchess’) convincing set decoration that brought the allure of the era and a rather majestic looking choo choo. Branagh’s clever trick in the director’s chair pinned our stellar actors to the background as much as the foreground, encouraging the viewers to look beyond the spotlight for evidence like the cunning detective.
As it stands, no vehicular journey is without shoogling as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ plays to its strengths as a kitsch conundrum with Hollywood’s most glamorous, almost excusing its accelerated second act pace and a platter of redundant clues that lend no hand to budding crime aficionados who haven’t read or watched the original material. Viewers young and matured will certainly get a thrill from Branagh’s version as an alternative to family Cluedo night and ‘CSI’ re-runs, with the exception of Branagh’s quality act hiding behind a two-layered, preposterous moustache.