Murder on the Orient Express is, of course, yet another adaptation of the Agatha Christie book, which is probably the most well-known of her mystery novels. It’s directed by Kenneth Branagh, which is a name which can only be said in a ridiculous over-dramatic voice: after all, he is a Knight as well as an actor. He also stars as Christie’s most famous hero, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, with the silliest moustache this side of a ’70s porn star.
It’s the usual murder mystery that you expect from Christie, this time on the famous train that was used frequently in the 1930s, which is when the film is set. Somebody is murdered on the train, and it’s up to Poirot to figure out who did it. Meanwhile, the train and its passengers are stuck in the snowy mountains waiting for help to arrive so they can continue on with the journey. The train is full of many famous faces, which is how they did it in the 1974 version directed by Sidney Lumet.
Branagh is most certainly a talented guy, and he has done great work on both sides of the camera (often at the same time), but this just falls flat. He does a silly French/Belgian accent throughout and that tash is so distracting and funny that it’s hard to take him seriously. Johnny Depp is clearly doing it to cover the cost of his divorce from Amber Heard, and gives one of his laziest performances in a long time (which is saying something.) Willem Dafoe has fun as an Austrian who is spouting Nazi propaganda. Daisy Ridley, in one of her first non-Star Wars roles, is actually perfectly decent as one of the passengers. Branagh gets some of his old theatre buddies, like Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench, to appear, and they are totally wasted—as is Penélope Cruz in yet another English-language film. The most captivating performance (besides the tash itself) is Michelle Pfeiffer, who gets all the juiciest lines.
It’s perfectly fine for a whodunit, but the humour seems forced and Branagh just isn’t convincing as the OCD detective. The quirks are totally toned down, and it feels like a Joe Wright film. Branagh can do quirky, but it does seem like it’s a by-committee film, the kind of project the British film industry when looking to make a lot of cash so they can give Ken Loach some more money. It actually wasn’t even made with British money, but has that feel!
The film’s biggest problem is the simple fact that it’s really boring: You don’t care about anybody or who committed the murder. It seems to go on forever and ever, and it’s not even that long at under two hours. I was bored within the first 10 minutes, and for a murder mystery that’s the greatest crime you can commit. The CGI train was fine, but it just makes you ponder what Wes Anderson would’ve done with the same material. Some of it was shot with 70mm cameras which is pretty cool though.
The release contains all the usual making-of featurettes, audio commentary and deleted scenes you would expect.