“Murder on the Orient Express”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Stylish and incredibly well acted, Kenneth Branagh‘s retelling of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the famous 1934 novel written by world renowned author Agatha Christie, is a fine piece of solid storytelling. Branagh’s talky whodunit harkens back to the days of old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking when movie stars wore lavish costumes, the production design was rich with detail, and films had a visual richness because they were actually shot on 70mm film (as Branagh did here).

This well-made vanity project makes only slight changes to Christie’s original work, managing to make the familiar seem new. The well-known murder mystery takes place in the confined space of the Orient Express train, where thirteen strangers are stranded due to an avalanche. When one particularly sinister passenger (Johnny Depp) is murdered, mastermind detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) must piece together clues and solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The ensemble players are top notch in every respect and are all perfectly cast. There’s the talkative widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), aristocrat Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), personal accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), stern professor Gerhard (Willem Dafoe), proper governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), humble Spanish missionary Pilar (Penélope Cruz), the elegant Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), and a charming doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), just for starters.

The role call is large, which means we only briefly get to meet and attempt to dissect the characters and their likely motivations. Branagh makes a point of boosting his own ego by making his Poirot the real star and relegates his top-shelf supporting cast to brief snippets of screen time. This results in a sometimes frustrating exercise because these are complex characters that you’ll want to get to know better, yet you’re constantly pushed away.

Although the audience is kept at a distance, the film is simply gorgeous and it’s hard not to appreciate its handsome cinematography and opulent direction. It’s very orderly and neat, rich in a refined elegance; a stylish and suspenseful thriller and integrity tale of the moral gray zone of seeking justice through revenge. The riddle will keep you engaged and the filmmaking style is grand. If you’re seeking old Hollywood glamour, you’ll find it here.

9 comments

  1. “This results in a sometimes frustrating exercise because these are complex characters that you’ll want to get to know better, yet you’re constantly pushed away.”

    This was pretty much my only issue with the film. I felt like as an audience we couldn’t get to know these characters at all. It was a stark contrast from my favorite “whodunnit” film Gosford Park.

    BTW, do you notice who sang the song during the closing credits? I stayed until the very end just to be sure my guess was correct.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was Michelle Pfeiffer! Never say Grease 2 but she was amazing in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Such a beautiful voice too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. I personally loved this movie, especially since i never read the book (so i was experiencing the tale for the first time). The cast was great and talented and the film itself was gorgeous to look at.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To me, this was a triumph of style over substance, which is fine because it’s lovely to look at and has several clever sequences. However, you’re always an arms length away from truly engaging with the characters, and some of the visual choices are just odd. For example, what was your reaction to all of the overhead shots in the actual train? I found it incredibly offputting for Branagh’s first examination of the crime scene and discovery of the body to be filmed from above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about the crime scene shots, that felt odd and unpleasant (maybe that was his point)? I did enjoy the opening introduction camerawork when he was moving through the train. That worked for me. It’s just such a gorgeous film to watch, too bad about everything else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder if Sherlock and crime procedurals have so defined the cinematic language used to depict crime scene investigations that Branagh and his DP wanted to find a new way of going about it. I agree about the opening tracking shot through the train station. That was gorgeous, inventive and not overly showy.

        Liked by 1 person

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