CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!
Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.
The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.
Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.
Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.
Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.