by Charles Kirkland Jr.
The classic Agatha Christie thriller, Murder on the Orient Express, comes to life . . . again!
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the greatest and most famous detective in the world. He knows it and he proclaims it. After spectacularly solving a case in Jerusalem, Poirot feels the need to take a vacation. Unfortunately, work calls and he must hitch a ride on the famous Orient Express to investigate a new case. While on the train, Poirot meets a number of characters but when a man is murdered on the train Hercule is plunged into solving the most challenging case of his life!
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this latest (in a long line) adaptation of Agatha Christie’s book of the same name follows much of the book. The story is good. The dialogue is funny, sharp and eloquent. The scenes are lush and lavish. Branagh’s journey takes us from the grand scale of The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem and the surrounding country and slowly narrows it to the small and cramped spaces of a train (even though it is a very beautiful train). As the ride continues, Branagh narrows the frame even further from a crowded train to singular tablespaces and face to face intimacy before opening the screen widely for a grand finale.
Unfortunately, though, the cinematic journey falls far short of the dramatic one. Branagh allows his star-studded cast to work but he fails to give them direction. Even for those who have not read the book, the movie provides almost no suspense. Poirot spends so much time pontificating aloud he fails to give the opportunity for the viewers to consider and wonder. For example, a character like Adrian Monk (who was loosely styled after the perfectionist Poirot) left his compatriots to wonder in silence when he solved a crime until he was ready to speak the solution. Poirot points out every clue and red herring and immediately indicates which it is. When the conclusion arrives, no one is surprised because everyone has been coddled all along the way.
Positively, it is really wonderful to see the performances of veterans like Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi, along with the return of the still sultry, Michelle Pfeiffer. Even Johnny Depp’s performance in this film is nowhere near the dreck he has submitted in recent years. None of the acting is Oscar worthy though and most of it comes across as a little soul-less. Maybe that’s the point? That each of these characters has lost some part of their soul? Maybe it’s true but none of the viewers are really given a reason to care about it.
Agatha Christie is considered by Guinness Book to be the best selling mystery writer of all time. Having written over 66 books, she comes in third in sales to The Bible and Shakespeare. Her books are well known and well read. There have been over a dozen adaptations of her book in movies and television over the near century of book’s existence. It is thereby a pity that this version is nowhere near the credit to the source than the Albert Finney-led vision from 1974.
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements, Murder on the Orient Express is passable at best for anyone who has not read the book. For those who have, it’s just a pass. Intended to be a beautiful homage to the past, Murder on the Orient Express is a film without mystery which does not pay homage to its writer.