- Directed by Kenneth Branagh
- November 2, 2017 (Royal Albert Hall) / November 10, 2017 (US)
Celebrated Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve a murder while he is traveling on the Orient Express.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of those films with a big name cast and that kind of put me off of seeing it a little bit. Why? Often these days it becomes about the big-name cast rather than telling a good story. It tends to be actors and their egos first and everything else a distant second.
To my surprise Branagh and company put characters first in the story first here and the ego of the actor does not appear to factor in at all. Depp and Dafoe for example, both prominent names, are not necessarily front and center here in the story. This is not about all the celebrities that they got to show up but rather is a well-crafted and character driven mystery story.
It’s hard to see how the pieces fit together on a first time viewing but on a second round it is much easier to see the clues that are dropped along the way. Then again, the first time I saw this I wasn’t necessarily watching to solve the mystery but rather to enjoy the story. That is generally my approach to any mystery film.
This appeared entertaining enough so I was willing to give it a look when I got my copy on discount on a Black Friday sale. There were memories of an older adaption starring Albert Finney in the back of my mind. I remember rather enjoying it and given that I liked Kenneth Branagh’s work elsewhere I figured at the minimum the directing was in very good hands.
Branagh is a quirky Poirot. He has OCD and an ability to spot lies which he views as a bit of curse. But he is also nursing wounds from a lost love. There is a sense of isolation from the world as the gifts that make him a great detective also make it difficult for him to be a part of things.
Aside from Johnny Depp as our victim, we have a cast that includes Tom Bateman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Dame Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. A cast that ranges from serviceable to talented. I was even pleased with Josh Gad who I have NEVER liked in anything else.
Daisy Ridley does well enough as Mary Debenham and stepping beyond her character of Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Personally I think she should continue taking smaller supporting roles and build a résumé from there.
Willem Dafoe gives one of his few not scary/creepy/weird/intense performances as an aging Pinkerton detective. There are two moments that show him in a wounded light. You feel bad for somebody that not only knows his best days are behind him but whose one chance at love is forever now out of his reach.
In the story the characters go from all appearing innocent to all being possible murderers. They are all equally likely suspects. They are shown to be hiding a litany of secrets and some outright lying.
I think they do lay it on a bit thick to establish the time period then again some movies barely try. The CGI used early in the film to create rather bustling long-gone environments eventually gives way to period sets and amazing costumes. It then looks like some of the finer dramas from the time in which it is set.
Murder on the Orient Express will keep you watching from beginning to end no matter how many viewings of it you have done. The first time will be to find out who the killer is. The second will just be to watch everything unfold. This is a movie you cannot absorb completely on the first viewing. It requires a second or more because there’s just so much to it.
Murder on the Orient Express is a fantastic adaption of the Agatha Christie story. There are great performances and great characters and a beautiful looking film with a great narrative. I highly recommend this movie!