By Geri Blackburn
In this new take on the British crime classic, Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as arguably Agatha Christie’s most popular creation, the famous yet peculiar Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The combination of this well-known story, as well as its all-star cast, such as Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, has allowed Murder on the Orient Express to become one of the most anticipated new releases of the year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
In the latest film adaptation of the 1932 novel, Branagh introduces us to the bizarre but brilliant Poirot, whose quick wit and quick mind are shown to the audience in his rather comical opening monologue, in which he solves a jewel theft by the Wall of Jerusalem. After this, we are taken to the critical setting of the film – the train ride from Istanbul to Paris. While the train is stuck at a standstill in a snowstorm, it is revealed that Depp’s character, American gangster Edward Ratchett, has been murdered. Plunged into a web of suspicion, the twelve first class passengers are all classified as suspects, and detective Poirot is tasked with solving the crime.
For a film with such a strong and humorous opening, the later action of Branagh’s newest directorial effort is disappointing to say the least. Rather than portraying Poirot as a sleuth extraordinaire, Branagh introduces the audience to unnecessary bouts of emotional fits from the detective, giving Branagh, who cast himself as Poirot, the opportunity to showcase his own emotive ability, rather than the character’s impressive and (significantly more interesting) detective skills.
The uncovering of the truth and formation of clues by Poirot feels rushed, as though there is a strict time limit to the film, despite its fairly long 1h 54m running time. Poirot formulates theories about each individual character as if out of thin air, making it extremely difficult for those unfamiliar with the original story to follow. The uncovering of each truth is so quick and hurried that it is easy for audiences to forget the significance of each character, making the end reveal underwhelming and forgetful.
To give Branagh some credit, he has done a wonderful job in recruiting a cast to remember. The actors, such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz and Olivia Colman, play their roles fairly well, however, not a single member of the star-studded cast seems to stand out. It would seem as if Branagh’s determination to increase Poirot’s own emotional depth, as well as dramatise the film in a ‘Hollywood-esque’ way, has stopped its actors exploring the full range of their talents, making the overall cast somewhat disappointing.
All in all, Murder on the Orient Express isn’t awful, but it would be a vast lie to say it lives up to Christie’s novel. Its fantastic cast, combined with Christie’s classic tale and Branagh’s skill as a director, seems like a stellar combination and makes the hype surrounding the film completely understandable. However, Branagh’s eager ambition to further dramatise the story, as well as raise his own ego as the story’s protagonist, has created an average tale which falls short of the film’s extraordinary potential.
Overall rating: 2.5/5
Image from Flickr