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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

The prospect of the re-telling of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels is certainly an attractive one; Sir Kenneth Branagh signed on to direct the feature and with his previous directorial efforts, he has continually proved that he can make the most dated of tales feel fresh and exciting. Additionally, he has assembled an all-star cast that would rival the Ocean’s films including the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. Anticipation is high, but does Murder on the Orient Express reach its promising destination?

Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) boards the lavish Orient Express after solving a theft in Jerusalem. What was supposed to be a relaxing journey turns into another mystery for Poirot to solve as a passenger is found brutally murdered. Everyone on board the train is a suspect – but who is guilty?

The weather has significantly turned and Winter is fast approaching, and Murder on the Orient Express is the perfect setting to get us into the seasonal spirit. Following an introductory act that serves as insight into Poirot’s character and all of his genius and eccentricities, such as requiring his eggs to be perfectly symmetrical and proportionate, the train literally and figuratively leaves the station. A story as grand and dramatic as Agatha Christie’s deserves equally as impressive and arresting visuals, a concept that Branagh has clearly understood. The director’s ambition is awe-inspiring as he employs a staggering (approximately) 4-minute tracking shot, commencing in the station before boarding the train and eventually moving through the carriages where we meet all of the passengers travelling on the Orient Express. If only Poirot’s journey was as smooth and fluid as the camera work – the train is halted by an avalanche and against the (painfully obvious CGI) snowy backdrop, a passenger is brutally murdered and it’s up to the greatest detective in the world to solve the case.

Understandably, Branagh has placed himself at the centre of the spectacle both in front of and behind the lens. His directing prowess may be impressive but his portrayal of the Belgian detective unfortunately lingers in the shadow of David Suchet’s memorable and iconic performance. Michael Green’s (scribe of Logan and Blade Runner 2049) script heavily favours and focuses on Poirot at the expense of every other character who are barely explored in relation to their interactions with the moustached maverick. While the material may be scarce in terms of the passenger’s character development, the quality cast bring their A-game; Ridley proves that she can hold her own against seasoned professionals, Pfeiffer is a captivating presence (one of the only good things to come out of 2017 is Pfeiffer’s career resurgence) and Odom Jr is a movie-star in the making. Johnny Depp however has a dodgy Brooklyn accent.

Arguably, your enjoyment of the film hinges on your familiarity with the source material: if you know the ending, then it could definitely dampen the experience as you wait for the solution to unfold (a poorly hidden reveal at best). Although, for those not in the know on the twist, there seems to be a lack of threatening urgency or danger that the elusive killer will strike again. The intrigue and excitement is lost upon Murder on the Orient Express – which is not a desirable reputation for one of the greatest “whodunnit” stories in fictional history to have.

Despite the finest efforts from everyone involved, Murder on the Orient Express cannot help but go off the rails and sadly, it runs out of steam before it’s even left the station.

Murder on the Orient Express is in cinemas nationwide now. Image source: IGN.com