REVIEW: Despite Its Stellar Cast, “Murder on the Orient Express” Is Dull

The title of Murder on the Orient Express is not new for most audiences. It is crime novelist Agatha Christie’s best-known book from 1934, which was later turned into the famous 1974 adaptation starring some of Hollywood’s best. This included Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, and Sean Connery. So, when director Kenneth Branagh decided to create yet another version of the notorious novel, he took on a big risk.

Photo Credit: IMDB

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the most famous detective in the world. As he is traveling on the Orient Express in the 1930’s to solve his next case, he is unexpectedly faced with his newest mystery. When the train becomes stuck in the snow, it is discovered that one of the first class passengers was murdered the night before in a gruesome and planned manner. Poirot instantly begins to work to solve who has committed this horrible crime and more importantly, why.

The people who know the victim do not seem surprised by the murder. The person was involved in risky business and this murder was going to eventually bound to happen. But this doesn’t stop Poirot and his investigation. He comes to understand that the person who committed this crime was one traveling first class, and was still on the train now.

Poirot begins to interview the passengers living in the first class car, including actors such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, and Penelope Cruz. He quickly discovers information, including how a previous murder of a girl named Daisy Armstrong may relate to this one. As details unfold, the mystery of who murdered on the Orient Express becomes more chilling and surprising.

Let me preface this by saying that Murder on the Orient Express isn’t a particularly bad movie. It just didn’t overall amaze me. With a plot based on an Agatha Christie novel, a star-studded cast, and fairly large budget, I expected more from the movie.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post

As he often times does, director Branagh had a hard time engrossing audiences into his film. Though the story is supposed to be interesting, it's easy to get lost in the details because some parts are either under-explained or far too dry to fully be intrigued by. Sadly, Branagh focused so much on some elements that he didn’t leave enough room for Christie’s brilliant story to unfold.

Unfortunately, I initially questioned seeing this film because of Kenneth Branagh. Often times, I have issues when Branagh both directs and stars in his own films as the movie wastes too much of its time on Branagh himself rather than what could have been great performances from the various other supporting actors. When he is solely the director (such as in Cinderella, 2015), Branagh's films tend to be better works. Branagh and the supporting cast did not give poor performances, it would often just give too much and then too little.

However, the film was not all bad. Perhaps the best performance was from cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, a regular partner of Branagh’s who did not disappoint. Being filmed almost completely on the small set of inside the train, Zambarloukos emphasizes the confinement while giving distanced understandings of characters. With shots from behind windows, through mirrors, and above character’s heads, audiences rarely ever get to see a character straight on. It’s easy to see that something always seems to be distorted in these passengers that claim innocence.

If anything, the film was entertaining. Though maybe not Branagh’s best work or the greatest adaptation of Christie’s novel, it has aspects which are interesting and acceptable. While the ending was excessive and overall quite simple, the movie was still pleasing. The greatest movie of the year? Not exactly. Still enjoyable? I think so.

 

Cover Photo Credits: Rotten Tomatoes

 

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