"Murder on the Orient Express" Review
An adaptation of Agatha Christie's famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express has finally been released after months of Kenneth Branagh promising it will be an exhilarating experience. This film should have been a great mystery thriller because of the all-star cast and amazing source material. However, all that star power and pizzazz can’t save a plot with poor pacing and a director that can’t decide how to use his cast appropriately.
The film opens in 1934 with famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) solving a missing jewel case in Jerusalem. While in the city, Poirot meets an old friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who happens to be the owner of the famous Orient Express. Poirot is persuaded to ride the Orient on his way back home to Belgium. Along on the train are thirteen other finely dressed passengers. There’s the governess (Daisy Ridley), the lustful widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), the gangster (Johnny Depp), and a host of other riders. One of the passengers is murdered after the first night and the culprit is one of the passengers. Poirot must use his world-renowned detective skills to catch the killer before the train arrives at its destination.
The biggest problem the film has is the beginning and middle phases. The pace is uneven as it shifts from starting out slow when introducing Branagh, then quickly speeds through the rest of the characters when they are boarding the train. Characters are given little backstory to make them stand out apart from each other. Johnny Depp and Josh Gad are the only actors who have a fully fledged character that is memorable to watch and care about. The rest just fill in space and patiently wait their turn to get a few lines here and there. It makes it really hard to care about which character is the murder when none of them are even that special to begin with. This lowers the level of suspense and mystery which in turn makes the film drag until the final act, which is actually really well done.
Branagh as the director is another problem the film has. He constantly makes the wrong decision when it comes to camera placement. The amount of overhead shots is staggeringly high and they really don’t serve any purpose other than to confuse and annoy. We also have a tracking shot of Poirot boarding the train that could have easily been improved upon if Branagh had filmed it from another angle.
The production aspects of the film are really well done as they make the famous train setting glamorous and pleasing to the eyes. The decorations inside and around the train are lavish and really give off the impression that this is a luxurious haven for the wealthy elite. The costumes for each passenger are also really well done. They are the defining traits of the characters and the main thing that we remember them by apart from their faces.
The acting here is inconsistent and only a few of the actors stand out in their roles. This is because the film has to juggle over a dozen important characters and their story arcs in only two hours. What we end up getting is a lot of Poirot and Bouc, but little of everyone else. Poirot himself is a very annoying character that tries to walk the line between eccentric and dramatic. His mustache is even more annoying to see on screen and it too is given more time than it deserves. It looks as if Branagh put it on to say “Hey look at me! I look funny and you should laugh!”
Johnny Depp gives a surprisingly good performance as the runaway gangster, Ratchett. He gives off a suave, but dangerous look that works perfectly for his character. He commands every scene he has while also playing well off everybody else. Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi also do a good job as Depp’s assistants.
Both Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. struggle in their medium sized roles. They try too hard to be memorable and end up making things worse. The absolute worst performance comes from Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton as the Count and Countess. They are insufferable to watch as the barely speak fluently and act with the same skills as an overly serious high school theatre student that is trying too hard to impress the director.
Veterans Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer do a respectable job in their criminally undersized roles. Dench plays a princess that knows she is more important than everyone on the train. Pfeiffer plays a widow that is searching for another husband as she recovers from her second divorce. She gets some show-stopping scenes at the end of the film, but it’s too little too late for her character.
Murder on the Orient Express is a moderately watchable drama where the stakes never feel that high and the suspense never reaches its potential. The quality of the film is like a seesaw with each scene going from good to bad to good again. It’s an inconsistent pattern that makes the film average with not many redeeming features to remember it by.