Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfieffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi.
When it comes to classic material, Kenneth Branagh is the proverbial moth to the flame. In musical terms, he’s a high class cover act attempting to put his own spin on much-loved works. From Shakespeare to Stan Lee, his films are often less a reinvention and more a refresher course for the uninitiated. His revised version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express continues this cinematic trend.
With a cast of faces you’ll instantly recognise, Branagh’s film embraces old-fashioned storytelling on the way to being a lavish, yet increasingly dull trudge. From a simplistic point of view, the starry cast help the audience at playing a game of whoddunit (we can guess which famous actor is guilty). After only a short time, it’s clear the film lacks depth and the famous faces cease to become characters in a film, and more famous actors enjoying a role-playing murder mystery weekend on a posh train. That adds up to not much fun for us.
The production is quaint and everything is well dressed and seductive to a point, but the hollowness leaves a taste of steepening apathy that can’t be rescued by a glossy finish. Sporting a magnificent moustache, Branagh’s elegant turn as Hercule Poirot is the film’s best draw. Branagh doesn’t hold back in his portrayal, and has the conviction to dive into the accent and the character with a well established sense of fun. There’s a delightful freshness about Daisy Ridley (maybe glad to ditch the lightsaber?) but the same can’t be said of the cutout cast who range between bored (Penélope Cruz), mostly absent (Olivia Colman) and stiff caricature (Willem Dafoe).
What ought to have been a welcome return for a celebrated character ends up being a lackluster affair that won’t live long in the memory. The time and place are well adhered to, but the things that are good about Murder on the Orient Express have little to do with the story it attempts to tell.