Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley and Johnny Depp
(Movie House Cinemas Press Screening)
A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
Recently, I took the time to watch one of Kenneth Branagh’s previous directorial projects, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: although the film does have some good elements, from a directional standpoint it’s a stylistic mess and Branagh spent far too much of the film topless for my liking. However, it appears that the acclaimed thespian has matured as a film-maker as he delivers an engaging adaption of Agatha Christie’s iconic murder mystery, Murder on the Orient Express.
Instead of the incredibly dated and often wacky directorial choices Branagh made in the past, here we have a film that takes a much more subtle approach. It’s simple, yet effective and manages to raise the tension levels perfectly. We get a genuine sense that these people are trapped together as the camera follows their every movement throughout the train’s close quarters. It’s tense and claustrophobic and you can feel the tensions rise as Poirot’s murder investigation begin.
On a similar note, the pacing is almost perfect, information, clues and revelations are given at a consistent and steady rate so the plot never becomes stale, it always feels like it’s a few steps ahead of the audience (as long as they haven’t read the book), knowing exactly when to tease and when to throw in a twist or two or to completely pull the rug out from underneath us. My only real complaint is that some of the film’s minor characters/suspects feel somewhat inconsequential to the overall narrative and only feel included because they were in Christie’s novel.
Branagh does an excellent job in the film’s central role, for the majority of the feature his Poirot is charming, sophisticated, witty and cool, but as we enter the final act he becomes much more brooding and serious as he attempts to identify the murderer. Branagh is surrounded by great performances from an impressive ensemble cast, each actor is given their moment to shine onscreen as Poirot moves from suspect to suspect throughout his investigation.
Personal highlights include Michelle Pfeiffer as a glamorous thrill-seeking widow, whose long past her prime and Willem Dafoe as the German bigot Prof. Gerhard Hardman. Both give rather layered and revealing performances as the story progresses.
It’s also extremely satisfying to see the once thought lost Johnny Depp back on form for a minor role as Edward Ratchett. Usually these days we see Depp being ridiculously cartoonish and two-dimensional such as he was in Mortdecai, or dry and uninteresting like his performance in the particularly dull Transcendence, but here he is restrained and intriguing. Like everyone on this train, Ratchett is not what he appears to be at first glance and Depp carries this with enough ticks and subtleties to make it believable.
Special props must also go to the wonderful costume and set design, despite being set during a snowstorm Murder on the Orient Express manages to be a visual feast with plenty of dapper and beautiful costumes with strong colors backed by lavish and detailed set, giving plenty for audiences to gorge on (with their eyes).
Of course, I could not finish this review without addressing the bushy, swirling elephant in the room that is Poirot’s facial hair. While in some of the promotional material, it may have seemed distracting and even surreal in its texture, but in the film, it’s perfectly fine, fitting stylish, sophisticated and slightly playful much like Detective Hercule Poirot himself.
Filled with a smooth style and suspenseful substance, this murder mystery is not to be slept on and is a great early contender for the beginning of award season