Agatha Christie adaptations began in 1928 and became theatrical mainstays from the ’60s through the ’80s. However, other than BBC adaptations, it’s rare to see any of these fun works here across the pond in the past three decades. Kenneth Branagh seeks to change that.
Murder on the Orient Express details an intriguing case where master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must find a killer on a stranded train. The case is anything but cut-and-dry, and his sleuthing skills are put to the test as he interviews each passenger and potential suspect.
Poirot shares many of the same traits as the other literary and oft-adapted Sherlock Holmes, as he is always looking for tiny details that may give away someone’s true motives. Thankfully, there isn’t any forced style to represent his intellect-in-motion. He doesn’t need to see a fight taking place before it actually does, nor does the camera quickly flash to someone’s boots to show us exactly what kind of dust is on them. Instead, his detection is all done through Branagh’s acting. Imagine that. While in conversation, you’ll see his eyes flicker, or his eyebrows raise slightly, as if he’s making a mental note to trap that suspect in their own contradiction at a later time.
The ensemble case in Orient Express is second-to-none. Beyond Branagh, it boasts Dame Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr, and Josh Gad. This is an amazing group of character actors that all breathe life into characters that don’t get nearly enough screen time on their own, but all flow incredibly well together.
There’s a real old school feel about every element in Orient Express that is crafted right down to the dialogue, the look and the pacing.
Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Cinderella, Locke) takes a purposely crammed space and helps the audience feel both the tight spaces and tension, yet the camera also moves freely about the train detailing purposeful angles of what we need to see and when exactly we need to see it.
This movie is all dialogue with a few scattered moments of action, but those moments feel a bit forced. As with most Branagh movies, it’s at its best when he gets a chance to deliver a monologue.
Murder on the Orient Express fitting right between behemoths Thor Ragnarok and Justice League is actually a great palate cleanser. Its traditional murder-mystery feel and purposeful pace, combined with a healthy dose of style, help it stand out. It’s not a must see in theaters, but a very solid rental. B