Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express has its good and bad points. I love Branagh’s attention to detail in bringing the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, to life. Unfortunately, that same attention isn’t given to the supporting cast that brings to life the trouble Poirot finds himself embroiled in. Instead, he has cast several familiar faces to associate with suspects that are mere sketches.
Summoned back to London, Poirot must take the famous Orient Express, which should be empty in winter, only to find his travel car packed. Amongst the travelers is a man named Ratchett (Johnny Depp) a criminal with a past that Poirot refuses to help despite being offered a large sum of cash.
When a sudden avalanche leaves the train stranded Poirot is shocked to learn that he is aboard a train with a murderer. Ratchett is dead and it must have been one of the passengers.
Despite stacking the cast with some fantastic actors, Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfieffer, and Daisy Ridley none of them are given anything to do except look fantastic against the art deco interiors of the train.
The script changes some of the source text, and some of it is for the better. What really troubled me is the pacing. It feels off, seeming both rushed and slow simultaneously. The viewer isn’t given the chance to solve the mystery alongside Poirot because glimpses of information are delivered a shade too quick, and the interview sequences of the novel, wherein Poirot can really suss out what is really going on, is so truncated here to almost be nonexistent.
It’s in the dialogue of the novel that readers can piece together the truth, but the film doesn’t let us indulge in those moments.
Branagh’s performance of Poirot feels great, but in building the character it feels like the rest of the movie suffered for it. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it. It was good. But it wasn’t as good as it could have been.
I honestly think this could have been better served as a limited series. Keep the cast, which is solid, and give us a four to six episode story that really lets a reader sink into the mystery. Or at least have the courtesy to not compress the entire story into a movie that doesn’t even run two hours.
And while Poirot, at the film’s end, is immediately summoned to Egypt to investigate a Death on the Nile, my watching of that film is a ways off yet, as I haven’t gotten to that novel yet. As much as I enjoy Branagh’s performance and work as a director, this one feels a little lacking.
And too much use of visual effects to create the location of the snowbound train. It really pushed me out of the film.
Consequently, this ended up being a very middle-of-the-road film for me. I didn’t love it. But I didn’t hate it.