Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 classic novel, Murder on the Orient Express. Originally adapted to film by Sidney Lumet in 1974, starring Albert Finney, and more recently, adapted to television by the BBC, starring David Suchet, this stylishly updated version stars Branagh as Christie’s renowned Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot. In this film, we first encounter Poirot in Jerusalem, and he later begins his return trip home, eventually boarding a long distance train between Istanbul and Paris, known as the Orient Express. When someone is murdered on board the train, Poirot must solve the case and find out who did it, and everyone, including the thirteen other passengers and staff, become a suspect. This remake is not only beautiful looking. It is a well-produced whodunnit, and as far as decent murder mysteries go, this one checks off all of the boxes.
This version of this classic tale while taking a more modern approach to film making, still maintains the traditional, older style of a classic detective mystery. The cinematography and production design reflect the 1930's time period well. There’s a nice long-shot, for example, extending throughout the surrounding area, as the main character, Poirot, walks onto the train, giving the film a wide scope, accompanied by Patrick Doyle’s musical score (his twelfth collaboration with Branagh) which complements the film’s mysterious and serious tone. The train looked so appealing, it made me want to experience that type of travel.
Much like the 1974 adaptation, this version of Murder on the Orient Express features an all-star cast. At the center of the movie, Branagh is very charming in his role, and even quite funny at times. For example, he enjoys a good laugh while reading Dickens, and obsesses over the size of his poached eggs (not necessarily part of the book’s original character). This version of Poirot seems to suffer more from a obsessive compulsive disorder, and at times, the character comes off as being very disorganized. In Christie’s novels, Poirot is indeed often a jovial character, but still knows what he’s doing, and is quite determined. Branagh clearly enjoyed playing this role.
The rest of the cast is near pitch-perfect. We have Penelope Cruz as Pilar Estravados (changed from Greta Ohlsson in the book), a trained nurse and missionary; Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman, an “Austrian professor”, who acts suspiciously; Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff, a rich elderly matron; Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett, the victim of the murder and a man with seemingly has a lot to hide; Josh Gad, in a non-comic role, as Hector MacQueen, an attorney who works for Ratchett; Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, a governess; and Michelle Pfeiffer, as Caroline Hubbard, a former actress and widow, whom the camera really loves. One of the things that I really like about a good murder mystery is having clear and well-defined suspects involved in the case, and in this film, they certainly are. As Poirot conducts his investigation, the train breaks down, and everyone fears for their life.
Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining “pot-boiler” of a film. If successful enough, the next logical step will likely be a follow up film adaptation of Christie’s Death on the Nile. I would certainly be up for it. Recommended!
Now playing at Nugget theaters, Monday thru Friday at 4:15 and 6:45 PM, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 1:40 PM.