Another week, another remake. Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Based on the novel published in 1934, this film, like many works in the mystery genre, relies on a series of wild logical leaps, critical information pulled out of nowhere when the plot requires it, evidence that would never stand up in court, and the tendency of suspects to blurt out confessions at the drop of a hat. The story has been kicking around for over 80 years and has been subjected to numerous adaptations, so no one is likely to be surprised by the outcome. The question for a film like this is: Do the actors and director tell the familiar story in an entertaining way?
The ingredients are certainly there. In addition to Branagh as the famous detective Hercule Poirot, the film features a talent-rich ensemble cast including Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, and Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, Branagh, wearing his director’s hat, largely wastes them. Granted, Poirot is the central character, but Branagh spends so much time relentlessly focused on himself that his talented cast is largely relegated to answering his questions and staring at him in fear/awe. They do try hard and generally get the most out of what little they are given to work with, but they end up being more props than characters. A notable exception, and not in a good way, is Daisy Ridley. She is horribly miscast and spends most of her screen time demonstrating that she has no business being in the same film as the far more accomplished actors around her. Johnny Depp is less weird than usual, but it’s still painful to watch him. Mercifully, his role is crucial but brief.
The pacing is very slow. The few action sequences are perfunctory and not particularly interesting, and the dialogue consists mostly of dry exposition. Poirot himself comes across as more irritating than interesting, and he finds it necessary to keep reminding those around him, and presumably the audience, that he is a famous and brilliant detective.
Aesthetically and dramatically, Murder on the Orient Express looks more like a formulaic made-for-TV movie than a feature film. There are a few nice panoramic shots, but most of the action takes place in the cramped confines of the train. There is nothing notable about the soundtrack, and there is really no particular reason to see it on a big screen.
If you want to see Murder on the Orient Express, I would recommend renting one of the available adaptations or waiting for this version to come out on DVD.
Overall rating: 5/10