MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Lucy Boynton, Sergei Polunin
When you have an all-star cast consisting of Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Penelope Cruz, to name a few, it’s imperative to use them well. It’s a shame that the ensemble remake of Murder on the Orient Express fails to do so. Kenneth Branagh stars as detective Hercule Poirot who is in between cases after solving a mystery in Jerusalem. If you’re unfamiliar with the classic Agatha Christie character, he’s someone that likes order, balance, and evenness. That applies to the size of the eggs he eats or the pile of poo he steps in. It’s a silly scene, but it showcases his eccentric side. He suddenly finds himself boarding the Orient Express on the advice from an old friend. It shouldn’t surprise you that he can’t quite find the proper room to be in and is forced to bunk with Josh Gad’s Hector MacQueen.
He’s not the only odd character to board the train. Johnny Depp plays Edward Ratchett, a businessman and art dealer. He’s on edge after receiving some threatening telegrams. Ratchett approaches the legendary Poirot to watch his back, but no amount of money will suffice as Poirot turns down his offer. Poirot has his hands full the next morning when one of the passengers turns up dead after being stabbed several times. To top it off, the train gets derailed after getting stuck in the mountains in a snowstorm. With nowhere to go and the murderer stuck on the train, Poirot needs to solve the case before more passengers wind up dead.
Murder on the Orient Express is a big vehicle for Branagh to be in charge of as he also serves as the film’s director and one of the producers. He’s no stranger to directing the movies he stars in after helming many Shakespeare adaptions like Hamlet, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing. Somehow Orient Express is the exception as the film gets away from him and veers far off course. He gets himself too caught up on playing the quirky Poirot to see beyond his elaborate mustache. The pacing comes to a screeching halt much like the train does in the snowstorm. Branagh fails to bring any urgency or energy to getting this case figured out. The stakes are high as the other passengers feel the danger present, yet there’s no real cause for concern to think that the murderer would strike again.
The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos looks a bit haphazard. He and Branagh have collaborated many times before, but they neglect to use the train’s tight spaces to create any claustrophobia or tension. Since everyone is stuck, essentially, in the same space, they should use that and make it feel like another character in the movie. Instead, they try to attempt artistic framing choices with odd close-ups and overhead shots that don’t add anything to the overall picture. There’s also the over abundant use of CGI backgrounds for the snowy mountains.
Branagh’s film should have been a great comeback to bring Agatha Christie to a new, younger audience. You can see that with casting hot actors like Josh Gad (Frozen), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and Leslie Odom Jr (Broadway’s Hamilton) as some of the suspects. It completely misses out on the fun of the classic murder mystery “whodunit” aspect. I never felt compelled to solve the crime like Poirot. I was never waffling back and forth from one suspect to the next like you should in these kinds of mysteries. Michael Green’s screenplay doesn’t provide good enough material for these actors to work with on making their characters standout. This is his third film this year following Logan and Blade Runner 2049. Oddly enough, those are two of the best movies of the year. Michelle Pfeiffer is the film’s only highlight. She seems to be the only one who came to play and relishes in creating a lavish character. If you go, stick through the credits as she sings the song that plays during the credits.
By the time we hit the climax, it almost came as a surprise as I didn’t think we had gotten that far in the story. There wasn’t enough buildup to make the ending have an emotional payoff once all is revealed. You learn the murder is connected to another well-known crime that occurred that is told through black and white flashbacks. By that point, I just didn’t care. It’s a shame as this cast is just too good to waste. Murder on the Orient Express should have been a great holiday escapist flick. Instead, it just makes me want to watch the Sidney Lumet film from 1974 and see how he did it better.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Agatha Christie deserves a better remake.
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS