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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Murder on the Orient Express

November 2nd, 2017 by Mark McCann Comments

Murder on the Orient Express (12a)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe & Johnny Depp
Running time: 1hr 52mins

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.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, alongside Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, may be one of cinema’s most portrayed fictional creations. Everyone from Orson Welles to Ian Holm has had a crack; most notably David Suchet in his TV incarnation that ran for over twenty years. With the Belgian sleuth so ingrained in public vernacular it was hard to know if Kenneth Branagh, emboldened by his directorial success in the last decade, could bring something fresh to the great detective.

The realisation is twofold.

On one hand, gone are the days where a single star could support a film, and thus the viewer is treated to a delicious ensemble. Orient Express has quite the cast, with everyone from Dame Dench to Willem Defoe vying to chew the scenery. Sadly, as is often the case with mysteries, most of the cast are relegated to small but pressing scenes, with the exception of Daisy Ridley who gets a moderate amount of screen-time and Branagh who gets all of it. It’s his show after all, and he suitably steals it.

The most important character here is Poirot and Branagh gives a spirited rendition of the character, a mixture of charm and deductive whimsy. This might have been enough to bolster the picture if not for a mixed bag from script doctor Michael Green, who’s previous credits include co-writing credits for Alien: Covenant, Green Lantern and a smorgasbord of schmaltzy superhero TV. Flying solo, Green gives us a deeply ornate version of Christie’s novel; it feels nostalgic, slightly anachronistic and incredibly flighty.

Branagh translates this in everything from the lofty feel of the film to the rosy romance of the accentuated period detail. Colourful stop offs give way to Chantilly skylines overhanging mountain vistas. The murder itself gives away the agency of the act to the delight of the mystery, and this feels less suspenseful and more nostalgic for those golden inter-war years. The two don’t gel, and while the cast enthusiastically propel us toward the unveiling, the imperative to solve the case is sadly lacking. This is a case Poirot is coerced into solving on his day off, and it feels like it in all but its melancholic ending.

In short; Orient Express is fun, it’s flighty. The cast are well put together and Poirot charms us along. But this feels less like a murder mystery and more like a merry game of Clue. It’s less about the severity and sleuthing in solving the mystery and more about the fun to be had along the way. And as charmed as this reviewer was at times by the casting and the verve; it wasn’t enough to engage for a lacklustre jaunt on a murder train, with the mystery playing second string.

3 out of 5 nerds

I came here in a time machine from the 1980s. The time machine was called childhood. I'm getting back there at all costs! (I also live, love, write, lift & pet cats wherever I may find them.)