In an attempt to do what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes in 2010, respected cinema thespian and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh dips Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery novel into a big-budget paint-bucket. It certainly looks pretty, spouting lavish costuming alongside impeccable set design, and Haris Zambarloukos – Branagh’s regular cinematographer – aids the production with a wealth of creative camera choices. However, whether it’s due to the editing or the writing, this adaptation feels like it ripped pages out of the novel to make it run under two hours.
You can’t fault the cast. From actual royalty Dame Judi Dench to television workhorse Leslie Odom Jr, all the players in the suspect roles portray their parts with distinction but without the need to shine above the rest. Well, except for Michelle Pfeiffer, but that’s in keeping with her character. Even Josh Gad does proper acting in this.
They all know who the two stars of this picture are: Kenneth Branagh and his beautiful moustache. As Hercule Poirot – “probably the world’s greatest detective” – he is as regal and commanding as he usually is. A simple exchange feels colossal from Branagh’s mouth and thank his godly facial fuzz for that because there’s a LOT of blunt exposition Poirot dishes out. We also see a lighter, fluffier side to Branagh with some politely mannered comedy and scenes of Poirot’s earnest euphoria over pastries. It’s as if he saw Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel and was reminded that acting can be fun.
There’s certainly enough to enjoy, but Murder on the Orient Express can’t capture the two things that make a whodunit compelling – clue-gathering and finger-pointing. While the film sets up its characters and situation well enough, it doesn’t leave time for evidence to connect or for suspects to actually be suspicious. You’re left with Poirot telling you the answer to an equation you were never fully given, so while the conclusion might be clever, it severely lacks an “A-ha!”
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