- Satisfying adaptation of Agatha Christie’s excellent novel
- Detecting and investigating can at times be slow and dull – not as stylish and fun like with BBC’s Sherlock
- Upbeat feeling with laughs in the beginning add personality to the film
- Atmosphere not as deadly and sinister as you’d think it would be
- Branagh (and his moustache) are excellent as Poirot
- Phenomenal and eclectic all-star cast with some excellent performances
It’s strange to think that over the last 10 years or so we’ve had two popular incarnations of world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes, but no real big incarnation of Christie’s wonderful Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Although the David Suchet series only ended in 2013, these episodes never reached the heights of popularity like we saw with Benedict Cumberbatch’s or Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock. So it’s about damn time something was done about it – so thank you Kenneth Branagh! Adapted from one of Christie’s most famous novels, this version of Murder on the Orient Express brings with it a very impressive cast for Branagh’s Poirot to interrogate his way through and find the murderer. We’ve seen Branagh take on Shakespeare and even Marvel… so how does he fare with a bit of Christie? Well, fortunately the excellent and varied cast keep the film consistently engaging, captivating us as only these fine actors can do; but a lack of consistent style and slightly messy reveals overshadow what could have been quite an exceptional whodunit.
Having finished a case in Israel, all famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) wants is a peaceful holiday. Yet when invited by his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) to journey to London via the Orient Express, the peace and quiet he’s initially promised doesn’t look likely. He mingles with fellow guests on the train, including governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz), Mr MacQueen (Josh Gad), Ratchett (Johnny Depp), Mr Masterman (Derek Jacobi), Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her handmaid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), and Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) – among others. Of course trouble seems to follow Poirot and when there’s a murder, with such an eclectic mix of guests on the train, it becomes very difficult for him to work out who it was… but rest assured, Hercule Poirot is on the case!
As far as the actual story itself goes, it really is exceptional; it’s difficult to fault Christie and her intricate plots and director Branagh and writer Michael Green really do put across the story well. Yet the way the story’s told doesn’t quite seem to do the book justice. We’ve seen from BBC’s Sherlock that when filmed well investigations can be delightfully exciting and lavishly filmed in a really stylish manner, flashbacks and effects utilised in a way to make each revelation and finding of a clue thrilling. Here however, clues are often underwhelming and almost forgettable, their importance not necessarily highlighted leaving it a little cluttered and making us feel slightly lost at times. All this culminates in a slightly underwhelming finale where we’re still trying to play catch up with Poirot and navigate the maze of clues and motivations.
Still, despite this, detecting and investigating the murder with Poirot can still at times be fun, feeling like we’re part of the action. This is best done right at the beginning during a sort of mini-case, similar to small action scenes at the beginning of James Bond films; this scene in particular is done very well. A lot of this is down to the quips and jokes that come from Poirot, really making his character and adding a personality to the film. Sadly this doesn’t last for the entirety, actually starting to stop around the time of the murder. This is a shame since the film loses an element of its personality when the laughs stop. Still, when they’re there, they really do help for us to fall in love with Poirot.
Most of that though is down to Kenneth Branagh, whose performance is excellent. If you think David Suchet is the only one who could play Poirot, this film will convince you otherwise. With an understandable and mercilessly non-annoying French/ Belgian accent, Branagh’s incarnation is absolutely likeable and played to perfection; you can’t have too much of him and that wondrous moustache. The only issue though is perhaps there’s too much Poirot; if you weren’t already aware of the rest of the cast, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all unknowns instead of A-list actors. This is definitely a Branagh film, with everyone else in supporting roles… but then again, when he’s as great as he is, it’s really hard to care.
This doesn’t mean to say that the rest of the cast are just throwaway celebrity cameos. On the contrary, where the middle section is less detecting and more a series of interrogations, it could easily edge on being dull and monotonous. However this is saved by sharp dialogue and, more than this, the excellent cast. It’s a shame they don’t interact together more; we usually see them with Poirot as opposed to each other. Still the cast is eclectic and all-starred – quite simply an absolute joy to behold. They make every scene polished and fun to watch, each delivering stand-out performances with unique characters with different sides, never letting us know who we should trust.
Then again, that’s what you expect from a whodunit – a tense atmosphere where you can’t trust anyone. Sadly there’s rarely a particularly tense scene, something that feels particularly lacking. Considering they’re trapped in a train because of an avalanche, snow surrounding and isolating them, the barren outside a deathly cold mountain, you’d have thought this would be an excellent way of heightening the claustrophobia and sinister atmosphere. Instead, although the scenery is beautifully filmed, it looks more like a Christmas card than a deadly setting for a murder investigation.
On the whole a solid whodunit thriller, but a bit of a mixed bag. While the style, atmosphere and slow unveiling of the mystery isn’t as strong or fun as it could be, Kenneth Branagh and his inimitable Poirot moustache leads a phenomenal all-star cast with some excellent performances. With a sequel set up in the end scene, I think you can rest assured that before too long Poirot will be on the case again.