A Timely Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Some Other Works: Cinderella (2015), Thor (2011), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Screenwriter: Michael Green
Some Other Works: BladeRunner 2049 (2017), American Gods (TV series 2017-), Logan (2017), Alien: Covenant (2017)
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Defoe, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr, Judi Dench, and even fucking more than that geez.
Synopsis: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

This was the first film directed by Kenneth Branagh in a long time that I thoroughly enjoyed. Usually, I find a certain gravitas to be lacking in his more expensive films, but his mix of humor and melodrama is well suited to tell this story.

First of all, Kenneth Branagh isn’t David Suchet, and that’s okay everyone. Like seriously, it’ll be alright. You fucking nerds.

Not Kenneth Branagh

Branagh excels at telling character driven, monologue heavy, stories suited or adapted from, in most cases, the stage. I was very surprised to find that this film had a lot of negative reviews. Most of them saying something like “why did he remake this? The other poirots are dope. Everyone knows the story hur dur.”

Let me say this, if you already know the ending to Agatha Christie’s tale, just chill the fuck out. A lot of people know it. If you loved this story in another form, that’s cool. This isn’t it though. That’s fucking okay. Nobody has taken it from you. It’s still wherever you left it last, kiddo. I really love a quote Kenneth Branagh makes in regards to some of the small changes he made in the adaptation.

“In a world where you know people are responsive to murder mysteries, you have to start differently, and do different things with the plot. And as soon as that happens, people start wondering what else could be different,” he says. Then he adds, laughing, “And I think a lot of people fib about saying they know what’s going on anyway.”

The truth.

Branagh directs as thought the audience were at a play. The impressive cast adds to this element, which may cause some to assume they’ll be getting a lot of juicy arguments and interconnected dialogue. This isn’t the case. The audience stays close to Poirot the entire film, and he spends plenty of time investigating. So, the supporting cast has fewer lines, but they all get an opportunity to tell their story. I think some may see this as a con, but for the purpose of the story, the casting of people who seem to only look very interesting is intentional.

Murder on the Orient Express is a character drama. Some have found it uncompelling, I can’t agree. The moral guidelines Poirot stands by at the beginning of the film become quandaries by the end. The parallels are there, and well done if not slightly ham-fisted by movie standards. I’d argue, not by stage ones. The movie really just… works.

The reveal to the mystery is slow, and revelatory. It takes the time to set up an emotional climax. This is where the all-star cast really shines. The reveal scene has a build up where all of the suspects sit on one side of long table, as he stands on the other side, prepared to give out his judgement. It’s a gorgeous shot, meant to mimic the last supper.

It’s here I’d like to remind fellow film goers that in films which have a mystery, it’s not always about how good the twist gets you, but rather how well it’s drawn out when you already know the answer. This film isn’t a one shot “twist”. It’s a true mystery, and we have Agatha Christie to thank for that.

 

It isn’t a brilliant film by any means, but I’d argue it’s a respectable one.

 

Betty Windsor is a film snob and co-host of  shows Geek Versus Week. She does not normally say FUCK this much in a film review. 

What Are Your Thoughts?