“Murder on the Orient Express”- Movie Review
In January 1934, Agatha Christie published “The Murder on the Orient Express”, a continuation of the popular crime series featuring the titular Sherlock-esque character, Hercule Poirot. The novel has since been adapted for different platforms- radio, film, television, and even as a computer game. Needless to say, the story is a staple of the detective genre. Why am I telling you this? Because I had no idea. I suspected Kenneth Branagh’s new movie was based off something, but I wasn’t sure. So I went in to the movie completely blind. I have nothing to compare it to, no set expectations, nothing.
The movie takes place in the winter of 1934. World-renowned French detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, who’s also the director) is taking a break from solving crimes and boards the Orient Express for a trip to Istanbul. His break is cut short when one of the passengers aboard the train, a shady figure named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is brutally murdered. Everyone is a suspect. Trapped in the close confines of the train in middle of a blistering snowstorm, Poirot must find who the killer is before they strike again.
Murder on the Orient Express is a beautifully crafted throwback to the old-school films of the 30s or 40s. When you get Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair, you know you’re getting a gorgeous movie, with a style that infuses glossy classiness and grandiosity. This here is no exception. Every frame is beautifully composed, and Branagh uses a lot of neat camera tricks to keep things visually interesting. The scene where Hercule and the staff find the body, for example, is filmed overhead, thus giving you the sense you’re looking into a dollhouse. In several moments when Hercule is interrogating the other passengers and we see the moment through the glass, which distorts the appearance of the passenger who may or may not have something to hide. Its touches like that which gives the film more of an identity.
The acting across the board is very solid. With such a large cast, many of them A-listers, everybody has to be on point. While the film is a bit campy in tone, nobody feels like a cartoon. Kenneth Branagh gives a great performance, as does his mustache. He absolutely disappears into the role. Johnny Depp does well playing a (somewhat) normal human character- which seems like a rarity nowadays. Although particularly known for comedies, Josh Gad’s performance gives a surprisingly dramatic and heartfelt performance. Daisy Ridley also proves that her acting skills in The Force Awakens weren’t a one-hit-wonder. (Although she does remind me of Keira Knightley in this. Or is it just me?) The one downside to having such a large cast is that the focus isn’t always divided evenly. One or two characters are left underdeveloped, and by the halfway point, I’d forgotten who they were.
As the mystery unfolds, I wasn’t sure where the film was going, and I stayed curious of how it would end. From what I understand, the book has a lot of sitting and talking. A wash-rinse-and-repeat sort of pacing until the case is solved. So by mixing it up in terms of style, things stay interesting. Granted, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it drags. Sometimes it does get a little boring. But these moments are short, and they do bounce back to being interesting again.
If you’re into classic detective stories, then Murder on the Orient Express is the movie for you. If you’re an Agatha Christie fanboy/fangirl, then maybe you’ll enjoy it. Or maybe you won’t. I don’t know. I can’t compare this movie to the other adaptations or argue its purity to the original novel because, well, I didn’t know it was a thing until about a week ago. What I can say it that for me, Murder on the Orient Express is like Clue set in the early 1930s. It may not be the greatest film that’s come out this year, but it has enough steam to keep anyone entertained.
Cosmic Grade: 3.9 out of 5 Stars