Director: Kenneth Branagh
Runtime: 114 minutes
To me, Agatha Christie films remind me of being full of a Sunday roast, laying on the sofa, and falling asleep. It must be my quaint British heritage, but I have always found adaptations of her work soothing and, well, mindless. It’s not to say the stories are not genius—in complete honesty, I have only read a few of her short stories, and even then I can’t really remember them—but they are in the Sherlock Holmes camp of being so ingrained in the public consciousness that they have been reduced, to me, to a Sunday afternoon television jaunt. So when I was given the opportunity to see Murder on the Orient Express on the big screen, directed by an esteemed gent and jam-packed with a star-studded cast, I had mixed feelings. While I was definitely interested in seeing the film, the fact that it was in a cinema (where you have to direct full attention to the screen in front of you) was a completely different beast from the usual nap-fodder of other Poirot adaptations.
Despite the film’s big budget, star-studded status, I found that this film never really surpassed Sunday sleep time for me. If you don’t know the story (although it is pretty obvious at this point), the film follows Inspector Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), a famed detective, as he suffers from ‘wrong place at the wrong time-itis’ and is forced to work on his holiday when a man is murdered on a famous train. I haven’t read this particular book, so cannot talk about how the film strays from the finer details of the plot, but in essence, the story panned out exactly as I expected. There are clues, red herrings, and large assumptions that seem to make any Christie story tick. Really, liking the plot is dependent on whether you like the source material—I like Christie just fine, so it held my interest. Did this adaptation need to be made? Well, no, not really. But, if you like the performers, and enjoy the updated visuals, it does a good enough job.
The highlight of this film was definitely in the bulk of its cast. Branagh does a great job as Poirot. David Suchet was my Poirot—anyone else was an imposter. However, Branagh’s acting chops and fantastic moustache works to keep you on his side. Judi Dench is a goddess, despite only having a few lines, and commands a presence no matter what she is doing. Josh Gad does fine, as do Leslie Odom Jr. and Michelle Pfieffer. Daisy Ridley is extremely likeable here, and I found myself actually wanting more from her. Johnny Depp, while he wasn’t terrible, doesn’t really put much into his role. He’s lost a lot of popularity recently, and while I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, I felt his performance never really hit the right level of dastardly that his character warranted. Since he is not in it for long, it’s not a huge issue—just something that makes the watch a little more tedious.
It wouldn’t be a Branagh film without gorgeous design, and this film is no exception. Everything just looks luxurious. Deep colours, beautiful backdrops, and luscious costuming makes this feel closer to the story’s old-fashioned aesthetic. Some shots are gorgeous, others linger too long. The main issue I saw with the direction of this film was in its editing—long, interesting shots would be quick-cut with a close-up out of nowhere, and the editing of the climax was a little disorientating. I found myself lost on a couple of occasions, and with a narrative as simple as a Christie story, that shouldn’t really happen.
If you don’t want to see me rant about a very minor personal gripe, please skip this paragraph. The film finishes with an end-credits pop song. The score is beautiful throughout, and does fit the theme of the film, but why does Hollywood always insist on putting pop songs over the credits of everything? That, mixed with the Imagine Dragons song in the trailer, dates a film that should be timeless. This is Murder on the Orient Express, not ‘Murder on the Bowing 737 MAX’. The end credits are (generally) the last thing you see of a film, and its song the last thing you hear. While I always resented the pop music cover of popular Disney songs at the end of Disney movies, it is always to be expected. But an Agatha Christie adaptation? Play us out with smooth jazz, not a 2017-esque shoegaze female pop singer.
Now that’s off my chest, I can give you my final recommendations. If you really love Christie, or Branagh, or Judi Dench, then go ahead and see it in the cinema. With talks of a possible sequel, I can understand wanting to give the film more bank if you’re a fan of the genre. But for me, while I enjoyed watching the film, it really just made me want to take a nap. While not totally boring, the film isn’t ‘edge-of-your-seat’ either. My interest was maintained, but for my personal tastes, I would rather watch a film like this at home. This isn’t the film to watch if you’re seeking a thrill-ride; still, Murder on the Orient Express has enough steam to chug your attention through a couple of hours.