Murder on the Orient Express - 2017
Director(s): Kenneth Branagh
Writer(s): Michael Green (screenplay) and Agatha Christie (novel)
Cinematography by: Haris Zambarloukos
Editor(s): Mick Audsley
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench
Synopsis: Famed inspector Hercule Poirot (Branagh) most solve a murder mystery in his travels on the Orient Express.
This Murder on the Orient Express marks the second time Agatha Christie’s novel by the same name has been adapted for the big screen, with Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version being the first one. The original version received sixth Academy Award nomination, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Albert Finney as Poirot and Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. So, I guess they thought this time around they can improve it and get seven nominations. Nevertheless, with a talented director in Branagh and a stellar cast, I was excited for this modern adaptation 43 years removed from the original.
As a director, Kenneth Branagh has tackled far more ambitious projects in the past, taking on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Macbeth and, by a connection of themes, 2011’s Thor. It’s safe to say Agatha Christie’s material was in safe hands, yet I found myself turned off by the inconsistent tonal shifts throughout this movie. The movie opens with Poriot finishing up a case he was hired to solve. Poriot is presented to the audience as a cartoonish character who, in the middle of a high case, he is more worried about his eggs than the culprit. There are many comedic elements and I was caught slightly off guard as to how whimsical the tone felt. Once the film’s main plot kicked in to gear, the tone and Poriot’s personality shifted to the more dramatic and serious tone fitting for a murder mystery, making his introduction feel completely out of place.
I understand that the opening sequence is designed to establish the brilliance of our lead but, with everyone around him repeating how brilliant he is, the question becomes, was it necessary to create this over the top sequence? They also show his brilliant detection skills throughout the investigation on the train, so once again the opening feels even more unnecessary.
Quick note: I do want to give a praise to Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos for how they shot the reveal of the murder. With an overhead shot, we don’t see the character faces and we can’t assess in that moment any sense of guilt. It also gave the camera a feeling of detachment from the murder, almost as if the audience was not part of it and witnessing from afar.
The cast is solid all around. Nobody really stood out in my eyes. Branagh is good as Hecule Poirot, even with the tonal inconsistencies. Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot had a couple of scenes in where he was able to flex his acting muscles. Michelle Pfeiffer gave a good performance as Caroline Hubbard, but during a key scene I did not buy into her character as the script would have liked me to as an audience member. Willem Dafoe’s and Judi Dench’s talents are wasted as they were given nothing to work with and became background characters.
Murder on the Orient Express is a classic “whodunnit” mystery that we rarely see nowadays. Sadly, once the truth behind the murder and the murderer is revealed to us, I was left wondering why. The killer knew that “the greatest detective” was aboard the train. Why commit murder and try to play tricks on him? Why not postpone your plans to when the second greatest detective is near the scene of your crime and get away with it? Ultimately, this “whodunnit” turned in to a “why do it” as I found this remake completely unnecessary. Just as unnecessary as Poriot’s double mustache, when the original single handlebar mustache was more than enough. Hey, listen. I love movies.
Murder on the Orient Express is currently playing in theaters. Go watch the original.
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