by Kevin Muller
Before comic book films became the craze, the holiday season was reserved for films that had big casts, a large budget, and usually an adaptation of a famous novel. Who doesn’t want to see their favorite stars all together on screen acting with one another? Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted many times as both a film and a TV production. This time, Shakespearean lover, and the man who brought the mighty Thor to the silver screen, Kenneth Branagh, takes a shot at the famous Agatha Christie murder mystery.
Hercule Poirot, played by Branagh, is an inspector who has an eye for detail and an obsession for logic. At the start of the movie, he has solved a crime and now is on his way to London, and boards the train with the rest of all-star cast. Each character is given enough time to give you an idea who they are in this story. Some are extremely shady, while others seem completely innocent. Johnny Depp plays the slimy Samuel Ratchett. He is an American who is involved with the mob and on the run from people he ripped off. His only hope is for Poirot to help him out through protection. His cries for help do not resonate with the inspector. Poirot has one rule, he won’t work for the very people he hunts… the criminals. The morning after, the train is taken by tragedy when one of the passengers is brutally murdered.
There are so many elements here that Branagh has to work with and he does succeed with almost all of them. For one, this film is filmed beautifully. Both the time period and colors mix well together to give you a feast for your eyes. The entire cast is respectable in their roles, but something seems to be missing from his adaptation. A cast this big and a movie, with even bigger aspirations, shouldn’t feel like a slog at points. While trying to keep with classiness of the novel, Branagh sucks the life out of many scenes. He certainly can add energy to a movie. The director has dabbled both with Shakespeare and super-hero fare. Both of those properties, especially the Shakespeare ones, were given an extra spark. Here, everything feels overly too clean and safe. The stakes are never really felt throughout.
Branagh is even very good in the role. His Poirot is intelligent, slick, humorous, and a bit playful, until he goes into full detective mode. The director and star had the good benefit of surrounding himself with fantastic actors. On top of Depp, he got Judi Dench, Michelle Pfiefer, Williem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, and Daisy Ridley. Unlike his last few big budget features, you can tell Depp is having a great time playing a straight role with little to no makeup. He gives Ratchett an incredibly slimy demeanor. It is the type of villainous role that you imagine Depp twisting his mustache hairs to play. Since this is an ensemble movie, all the other characters give worthy performances with the little time that they are given. Daisy Ridley, dolled up and out of her Star Wars gear, gets a little more to play with since it seems she is somehow connected to the murder. Again, she is fine. That is the problem with this film though, it is just fine. It seems as if Branagh was given strict guidelines and did not step out of balance at all. Though I will give credit to the big reveal. It is quite a twist and the film, despite its sterile nature, earns the ending.
By no means is Murder on the Orient Express a bad movie. Since the film has made money, a sequel has already been green-lit. Hopefully, the sequel has that spark that seems to be missing here. Branagh’s mystery never takes risks, but the story, acting, direction, and everything else, is so good that it just becomes the equivalent of a little bag of chips where it does its job, but thirty minutes after you consume it, you will easily forget about it.
I am giving Murder on the Orient Express a 2 out of 5 Hairpieces!