Murder on the Orient Express
2017, PG-13, 114 min. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 10, 2017
Liberties, of course, would be taken. Every actor who’s slipped into the fastidiously polished shoes of the diminutive Belgian detective has interpreted to his own liking the part of Hercule Poirot, a character so iconic and so deeply embedded in the popular imagination that the Times saw fit to print a front-page obituary when his maker Agatha Christie killed him off. Joining the ranks of Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, and David Suchet, Kenneth Branagh – charming, exasperating – was bound to put his own spin on Poirot, too. But, mon Dieu, did he have to make him so athletic?
Branagh not only stars in but directs this lavish adaptation of one of detective fiction’s most read and remembered works. This Murder on the Orient Express – the fourth screen adaptation this century – sets its mark high, which means it has farther to tumble. Parts of it are a gas: the drawn-out, dripping-tap introduction of the ace ensemble cast as they board the titular train in snowy Turkey circa 1931; the exquisite production design, all that fine china and luxe textiles ogled in overhead shots. But once Poirot begins investigating a murder that takes place overnight in the first-class train car, the film starts to feel like a real drag – a lot of telling not showing, not much sleuthing for the audience to do (to be fair, this is one of Christie’s least participatory whodunits), and a tonal shift away from the sprightliness of the beginning – which leaned into the elemental, endearing hokeyness – and toward a wailing self-seriousness more befitting one of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations. Yes, liberties will be taken, and some of them, like the unorthodox decision to stage the final reveal off-train, in a Last Supper-like tableaux, are good gambles. But turning Poirot into an action figure with a gun is simply heresy.
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Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh, Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo