Murder on the Orient Express Review
By Rich Cline
The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style entertainment. Director-star Kenneth Branagh lets the story unfold with attention to detail while filling the screen with eye-catching images, from the spectacular mountain settings to the opulent costumes. And while the story is too familiar to stir up too much suspense, it’s played with a strong sense of emotional resonance. And the moral question is provocative.
The Orient Express sets off from 1934 Istanbul with a colourful collection of passengers. A last-minute addition is noted detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh), who has just solved a thorny mystery in Jerusalem and is now heading to London. Even though he shouldn’t be working, he begins to weigh up the odd collection of passengers around him, including a gangster (Johnny Depp), countess (Judi Dench), widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), governess (Daisy Ridley), maid (Olivia Colman), salesman (Wille Dafoe), assistant (Josh Gad), butler (Derek Jacobi) and doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.). Then in the middle of the night, one of them is violently murdered. And when the train becomes lodged in a snowdrift, Poirot has the time to dig further into each person’s clearly suspicious back-story.
What makes this story so enduring is the way it taxes Poirot’s carefully ordered sense of the world, leading to a conclusion that challenges the standard ideas of right and wrong. This adds an intriguing timely relevance to the themes, drawing the audience in further than expected for such a familiar story. And Branagh’s performance is terrific. In the earlier scenes, he plays up the character’s witty banter and inflated self-image. Later, he gets to reveal some strikingly dark feelings. This gives a sense of gravity to the entire film, while each of the other cast members creates a vivid, fully formed character around him.
The stand-out in the ensemble is Pfeiffer, whose blowsy American has the most intriguing trajectory. But everyone is superb, adding little touches that play on the idea that each passenger has a motive for murder. And the big revelation plays out in a grandly cinematic style. But then, the entire movie feels like an old-school classic, with generous production values that create an epic sensibility. So it doesn’t really matter that a couple of action scenes aren’t actually very exciting, or that the quality of the actors leaves us wanting more of all of them. Films are rarely made on this kind of sumptuous scale, and it’s nice that Branagh also leaves us with something to think about.
Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, The Mark Gordon Company, Scott Free Productions, Latina Pictures, Genre Films, The Estate of Agatha Christie
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Starring: Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, Penélope Cruz as Pilar Estravados, Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, Judi Dench as Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, Johnny Depp as Samuel Ratchett, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot, Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman, Lucy Boynton as Countess Helena Andrenyi, Sergei Polunin as Count Ruldoph Andrenyi, Olivia Colman as Hildegarde Schmidt, Tom Bateman as Mr. Bouc, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Biniamino Marquez, Marwan Kenzari as Pierre Michel, Miranda Raison as Sonia Armstrong, Hayat Kamille as Susanne Michel, Joseph Long as Imam, Adam Garcia as Italian Fan, Honey Holmes as Funeral Mourner, Alaa Safi as Jewellery Merchant, Lasco Atkins as Avalanche worker, Bernardo Santos as Kitchen Hand Chef, Bern Collaco as Tokathyan Hotel Guest, Jason Matthewson as NYC Reporter / Journalist, Ziad Abaza as Ship Mate, Jill Buchanan as International Traveller, Nick Owenford as New Jersey Police Officer, James Pimenta as Turkish Merchant, Tony Paul West as New Jersey Police Officer, Asan N’Jie as Waiter, Alan Calton as Fireman, Tom Dab as Avalanche Worker, Elena Valdameri as International Traveller, Ekran Mustafa as Local Person, Fran Targ as Merchant Bazaar, Tate Pitchie-Cooper as Pauper Child, Scarlett Archer as Pauper Child, Charles Streeter as OE Maitre’D, Gerald Maliqi as Station Worker, Raj Awasti as Sous Chef, Emanuel Coelho as Waiter, Andy Apollo as Armed Policeman, Alejandro Rodriguez Chavez as OE Porter, Lampros Kalfuntzos as Local person, Dardan Kolicaj as Porter, Nina Kumar as Turkish Merchant, Zeynep Rose Kina as Pauper Child, Rami Nasr as McQueen’s Father, Tom Rodgers as Fire Stoker, Sid Sagar as Attendant, Rodrig Andrisan as Merchant Istanbul Bazaar, Michael Rouse as British Chief Inspector, Christopher Mulvin as Station Staff, Matthew Hawksley as Waiter 1, Adrian Danila as Porter, Kate Tydman as Chef, Ben Gonzales as Pauper child, Benjayx Murphy as Turkish Train Station Passenger, Festim Lama as Barman / bazar, Pip Jordan as Sous Chef, Yasmin Harrison as Sous Chef 2