Arriving at the station after months of anticipation, Kenneth Branagh’s new spin on Agatha Christie’s legendary story has finally hit the big screen; while it’s another big-budget affair, this one has the air of something “different” that makes it stand out amongst the franchise shenanigans surrounding it during the colder Autumn months. Have Branagh and his moustache balanced directing and starring duties to good effect?
Murder On The Orient Express; dir: Kenneth Branagh; USA 2017, 114 mins.
Our Rating: ★★★★/5
Beginning at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1934, we are introduced
to the “World’s Greatest Detective” Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is in the area to discover the thief of an artifact of both political and religious importance. Hoping for some well-earned rest, he is soon thrust onto the Orient Express to head back to London for another case at the behest of the British Government – and into the lives of a group of strangers, that includes a gangster (Depp), his assistant (Josh Gad) a princess (Judy Dench), a professor (Willem Dafoe), a governess (Daisy Ridley) and a grieving widow (Pfeiffer), all of whom will soon be embroiled in a murder that has transpired on-board. Despite his best efforts to rest, Poirot is knee-deep in detective work once more to crack the case with only a few clues (and his magnficent yet bizarrely-sized moustache) to
guide him to the killer – and it could be any of them.
Shot on a huge 65mm film that is as ambitious and ensconcing as you can get, this Orient Express ride is as luscious and beautiful as you would expect. Branagh takes full advantage of his huge canvas by filling the screen with some truly magical shots and camera work as the train slices through desert, countryside and arctic terrains as
it speeds along towards its dark destination. Indeed, it’s on the train that the superb work from cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos truly soars with the camera planting us firmly into the narrow surroundings of those on-board, helping to crank the tension up even higher – the bird’s-eye view of Poirot investigating the crime scene is particularly exemplary.
Agatha Christie’s prose has always been a magnet for talent over the years and this is no different with the entire ensemble on excellent form in their small but powerful roles; Michelle Pfeiffer is the stand-out performance here, and follows her Oscar-worthy support in Darren Aronofsky’s mother! with another superb turn. Willem Dafoe, like Branagh, injects some humour into proceedings while Josh Gad and Daisy Ridley continue their emergence. Even Depp produces some of the best work of his recent
“lull” as a power-hungry gangster. But this is Branagh’s film in more ways than one; while he may not seem the right fit for Poirot, his slightly more avuncular take is wonderfully measured and provides him with his best role since his wonderful Hamlet.
While it suffers from a few kinks along the way like its title machine, this new Murder on the Orient Express is all-in-all a fantastic night at the cinema that brings new humour, tension, and beauty to an already compelling tale. Perhaps we’ll all set sail for the Nile in a couple of years…
Scott Davis is a Freelance Film Writer who has been writing about films for the past five years and loves everything cinema – though his favourite film to this day remains Masters of the Universe, and he will not hear a bad word said about it!