Not that we asked for it, but Agatha Christie’s 1934 classic Murder on the Orient Express has been turned into yet another movie adaptation, what’s more conducted by accomplished and prominent British actor/director, Kenneth Branagh.
Boasting a mustache that puts Groucho Marx’s to shame, Branagh for the occasion did not only direct the movie, but also chose to portray famous detective Hercule Poirot throughout the well-known story full of mysteries (if you’ve already read the book or seen one of the 2 previous adaptations by Sidney Lumet and Carl Schenkel, then not so much) revolving around the investigation of criminal Samuel Ratchett’s (Johnny Depp) murder aboard the famous Orient Express, where each of its 13 passengers are potential suspects in the eyes of Poirot.
Directing a crowded, star-studded cast (Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Olivia Colman, to list them all) while holding the lead role and having to supervise every camera movement, Branagh did not get himself into an easy job bringing his vision of Murder on the Orient Express to life. And the result, out in theatre today, sadly seems to prove just that.
Ambitious but misses the point
Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express “boast a few distinct, modernizing touches, notably a few pulpy action beats, a more ethnically diverse cast and a heightened awareness of racial and religious tensions that feels more 2017 than 1934.” But what still “tries for something transporting, something classic,” ultimately “feels kind of off.”
“A failure overall, juggling too many characters to keep straight, and botching the last act so badly that those who go in blind may well walk out not having understood its famous twist ending,” the film suffers from “clumsy direction.” Undoubtedly “not what it might have been had simplicity won the day instead of big intentions.”
Working “like mad to jazz things up,” Branagh delivers a “squishy, overblown vanity project,” rendering “the particular case at hand flimsy and forgettable.” With the desire to infuse too much drama into his film, he only succeeds in making Christie’s story “self-serious and mawkish,” immersing his actors in a “synthetic world” mostly made of C.G.I., “adding to the air of inauthenticity.” “How blend it all seems, when the intent was surely for visual splendor.”
Too much and not enough
“Too much” are 2 words that unequivocally come to mind after watching the film, as you sense that Branagh “spent less time fussing around behind the camera than putting a good show in front of it.” “For him, the story centers on the personal growth of his character.”
It’s highly regrettable that the film is “far too interested in Poirot’s moodiness to stay away from him for too long.” By privileging the detective’s character “(who is there to solve the case, not steal the show) and the train itself over his accomplished cast,” it makes it “hard to be all that invested in this fake-looking world when we barely know its real inhabitants.”A real shame, as “everyone seems committed, particularly the winning Ridley and Odom Jr.”
Best quotes from the reviews:
“From a character perspective, such ostentatious facial hair is clearly compensating for something.” – Peter Debruge, Variety
“Offers a morally unsettling reminder that – with apologies to Chandler – the art of murder ins’t always as simple as it appears.” – Justin Chang, L.A. Times
“Great source material and a strong cast are smothered by an overeager actor-director.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
” No, we didn’t. I assume that’s your first question: “Did we need another Murder on the Orient Express?”” – David Edelstein, Vulture