Murder on the Orient Express

by Toby Woollaston

motoe.jpgHaving seen Albert Finney’s rendition of Agatha Christie’s famous detective in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is one of the few times I was thankful for my shocking memory—I couldn’t remember “whodunnit”. 

This time around a very moustachioed version of Hercule Poirot is played (and directed) by Kenneth Branagh.  He is a Belgian detective, world famous for finding solutions to the most complicated criminal mysteries and, as the title suggests, there’s been a murder! The slightly less moustachioed Ratchet (Johnny Depp) is the unfortunate recipient and doesn’t last the whole train ride I’m afraid. It’s no surprise, then, that all the remaining first class passengers on board the Orient Express have a motive for murder … Ratchet, it turns out, was not such a nice fellow, having blood on his own hands from a prior indiscretion.  Thankfully, Poirot is onboard to piece together what becomes a complicated puzzle.

Branagh does an adequate job as the obsessive compulsive genius, although in comparison to the slightly unhinged charisma of previous Poirots (Finney, Ustinov, and Suchet), Branagh’s version is found somewhat lacking. Despite this minor quibble, the remaining ensemble is perfectly cast. Depp deliciously slides in to a role that feels perfect for him (yes, I mean the pre-death version). Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. do commendable jobs while Judy Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Willem Dafoe all chip in with archetypal roles dripping with as much intrigue as their screen-times allow. 

Michael Green’s (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) screenplay handles some fairly weighty exposition without a gratuitous use of flashbacks—and thus keeping the film’s action onboard the titular locomotive. Green’s watertight (if somewhat wordy) script keeps things tantalisingly just out of arms reach.  Although, I’d like to have seen each of its many characters fleshed out a little more—perhaps an impossible task for a two-hour film.

Nonetheless, Branagh has directed a thrilling ride through the mountainous snowscapes contrasted with some murderous machinations in tow, making this first class ticket as opulent as it is chilling. And despite a few missteps, this train is still worth jumping aboard.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.

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