If anyone’s lost a hamster, check Kenneth Branagh’s upper lip?
The best detective in the world is Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) Whilst travelling between jobs, he jumps aboard the Orient Express for a few nights, however becomes stranded in a snow storm. During the night, one of the passengers is murdered, meaning the murderer is amongst the handful of people staying in Poirot’s carriage. Will Poirot be able to solve the murder and trap the killer before the train starts moving again?
Ready for this? So you have – Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pffeifer, Judi Dench, William Daefo, Olivia Coleman, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr all starring in one movie. Sounds magnificent, doesn’t it. What a shame that it just wasn’t magnificent.
Murder on The Orient Express is Branagh’s modern day directorial of the beloved 1934 Agatha Christie novel sharing the same title. It’s been adapted many a times with Branagh at the disadvantage of having Sidney Lumet’s well received film and David Suchet’s memorable portrayal setting a high standard. It’s evident that Branagh has tried his hardest at creating an honest Hercule Poirot in himself; but for the love of god; what is that bloody moustache? Although it’s a rat sized hairball of ridiculousness, it does solidify Poirot’s eccentricity. He’s an analytical mind that has a need for equilibrium. Every tie must be straight and his eggs must be the exact same size and cooked perfectly; therefore a preened moustache totally makes sense. It is a farcical scene stealer though and get’s some getting used too.
Facial hair bashing to one side, the film opens with strength. Branagh captures the opulence of the era through great cinematography; accentuated by his use of shooting on 65mm stock. You can tell his is a fan of longing out his shots amongst the scene, and kudos to him because they are beautiful; particularly the starting scenes in Jerusalem where we are introduced to his peculiar character. We witness Poirot solving a crime with class and quick witted humour, which leaves you thinking, yep this is going to be a fun and quirky ride. It does maintain that flow but not for very long.
The excitement within the plot dissipates, I believe, a few minutes after Poirot get’s onto the Orient Express. After the short introductions for the vast range of his travel companions, the tension gradually drops and drops. It only picked up again once there was a one to one scene between Poirot and Mr Ratchett; a suspicious and paranoid so-called art dealer who is executed superbly by Johnny Depp. Mr Ratchett is subsequently found stabbed to death and Poirot cant ignore the tease of solving another crime. Side note -Branagh decides to do a birdseye view upon discovery of death and draws this out for a good few minutes. You don’t see the body and it’s very static in movement. I just have to say it was bloody awful and I did not like it.
Anyway, thus begins the investigation. Here is where the major criticism can be drawn. The characters. are. not. utilised. to. the. best. of. their. ability. With the mind of Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) behind the screenplay, it is disappointing that he hardly takes the time to connect and even include some characters properly into the plot. Worst off is Penelope Cruz as the depressed, religious abiding Pilar Estravados who barely strings together 5 sentences. Then there’s William Dafoe as German professor Gerhard Hardman, who has more to his role, but it’s underwritten and flatter than a greasy head of hair.
The wonderful Dame Judi Dench is Russian Princess Dragomiroff and the fabulous Olivia Coleman is her skivvy maid Hildegarde Schmidt. Both incredible actors and both with nothing to do apart from pull annoyed faces at Poirot. Sergei Polunin was also wasted as Count Andrenyi, he was so good to watch yet he was never on screen. Wasn’t a fan of Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, don’t think that was cast very well at all.
On the other hand, Odom Jr played Dr Arbuthnot absolutely brilliant; a charming doctor but with a secret. Michelle Pfeiffer is glorious as the lust driven divorcee desperate for attention aka Mrs Hubbard. Josh Gad as Hector Macqueen fulfilled his duty but his character was all over the place with a serious lack of motivation. As Ratchett’s butler, Derek Jacobi also did his best with what he had. You can see how the negative massively outweigh the positives and this creates such a dull cloud.
Now all of that is covered, all that is left is the crime. I’m not going to spoil the rest of the plot because viewers need some excitement when watching this. However, it does allude to a story based on the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping which is perhaps the only really sinister element to this murder mystery. Most may know the outcome of the story but the climatic scene isn’t’ very climatic; its’ a revelation sure, but the impact is minimal.
Brining a older story back to life for a modern day audience is a tough gig, and Branagh has given it is best. However, he has given himself his best. There is so much effort put into making Hercule Poirot a memorable portrayal, which for most it may, but not due to clever script work or great storytelling; but rather the ridiculousness of his facial hair. All other characters get pushed to one side, and when you have unreal talent such as the above, that is a missed opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ isn’t a bad film per se, it’s just not the great one it could have been. It’s just not about getting all of the story in there, it’s about how you do it and Branagh could have done better. Standard entertainment but a disappointment from expectations. And it looks like Metacritic agrees!
3 out of 5 swirly moustaches