All aboard to see the newest rendition of “Murder On the Orient Express” based on Agatha Christie’s famed novel of the same name. If you haven’t read the book or seen the previous two movie versions from 1974 and 2001, you’re in for a mystery crime thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns that will derail your problem solving skills…in a wonderfully enjoyable way.
Detective Poirot (Branagh) must find who killed the disreputable antiquities dealer, Edward Rachett (Johnny Depp) aboard the snowbound train headed from Instabul to Europe. The deductive reasoning skills of this brilliant man are put to the test to find out “whodunnit.”
Kenneth Branagh takes a stab at directing and starring in the “Murder on the Orient Express,” written by Michael Green (“Blade Runner” “Logan”), using his keen sense of timing and theatrical background to punctuate the humor and elevate the surprise factor. Branagh portrays the most famous detective in the world (or so he says), Hercule Poirot with an all-star supporting cast: Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, and Michelle Pfeiffer who all shine brightly in their respective roles.
We are introduced to Poirot’s brilliant skills in the first scene as he solves the mystery of a stolen artifact. The accused are a rabbi, a priest, and an imam. (Yes, there’s a classic joke there that is comedically interwoven into the dialogue.) We get a glimpse into the astute observational skills of Poirot as well as his need for visual balance and symmetry—a key and humorous part of his skills and personality. The double mustache that dons his upper lip doesn’t go without a sprinkle of humor either. He’s not exactly a people person, but this just adds to his unique and intriguing personality.
Each of the characters are introduced to us much in the way we might see in a live theatrical production. From the strikingly gorgeous husband-seeking socialite Caroline Hubbard (Pfeiffer) to the judgmental, condescending, racist Professor Gerhard Hardman (Dafoe) and everyone in between, these unusual characters reveal just enough information to begin to put the puzzle together with the help of Poirot’s discerning eye. You feel as if you’re playing a live version of the board game Clue only to be surprised at the end.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is a captivatingly entertaining detective film, keeping you glued to the dialogue so as not to miss any integral clues. You feel as if you’re Poirot’s sidekick, wanting to solve the murder mystery with him. Paying close attention, the film speeds along as you enjoy every moment.
Branagh handles the dual role as lead actor and director with utmost skill—not an easy task. He’s a master at straight-man comedic timing while demanding precision performances from the rest of the cast. Having such seasoned and talented actors quite possibly makes the task less arduous, but make no mistake, Branagh’s signature style is evident in the final product of “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Cinematography is key in bringing the viewer into the tight spaces of a train compartment or hallway as overhead shots are used for a unique perspective of the events unfolding. Equally important is the panoramic and breathtakingly chilling views along the train’s passage, through mountains and valleys and as the avalanche cascades and crashes into the train. These perspectives engage the viewer visually, adding to the enjoyment.
Taking place in the 1930’s costuming is simply stunning, particularly since this is a wealthy person’s train. Dench, portraying a princess, not a stretch for her, is outfitted accordingly with rich velvets and Pfeiffer shows off the styles of the era, making you hope they will return.
“Murder on the Orient Express” brings you back in time to be a part of this murder mystery. Filled with just the right amount of humor, these larger-than-life characters create two hours of puzzle-solving entertainment. Branagh’s special theatrical touch along with a talented cast and crew make this a welcomed remake of a classic story and film.