I had never read the Agatha Christie book, nor had I seen any of the other movie versions that preceded this new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh, so I was entering this film with brand new eyes and an excitement to match. I also avoided reviews for this film, after a quick, early glance at Rotten Tomatoes. Decent early score, so I was hopeful.
In the end, I liked the film, but it was not near as great as I had hoped it would be.
The world famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) had some free time on his hands, but there was no rest for the little grey cells. He was called for another case and had to get on a train, the Orient Express. Suddenly, there was a dead body on the train and a cabin full of suspects. Could the masterful Poirot solve the murder?
I hope so, because I figured it out pretty early.
There are some really great things about the film, starting with Kenneth Branagh. His take as Hercule Poirot is wonderful and he does a fantastic job giving life to one of Agatha Christie’s most famous characters. Poirot is well developed, we have a connection to him and Branagh fills him with some great, subtle character traits that really humanizes the detective.
The film also looks tremendous. The cinematography is top notch and the surroundings of the Orient Express are breath-taking. There are great shots inside the train as well, showing that Branagh has quite the grip on the understanding of how to shoot in the tight spaces as well as the snowy exteriors.
There is a wonderfully talented cast in the film. Unfortunately, it feels as if the film does not do a suitable job of allowing this amazing cast to show what they can do. With the exception of Branagh (who was tremendous), Josh Gad, who played MacQueen, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, the cast was wasted on background characters who seem to be nothing more than window dressing. Honestly, I did not care for most of these characters.
The murder mystery was pretty disappointing as well. That was mainly because it was too filled with exposition and it kept bringing new characters and pieces to the puzzle that the audience could not possibly have known. Part of the fun of the murder mystery is being able to play along with the detective. That was not done here. I still guessed the eventual reveal so the film lacked in an enjoyable pay off.
Because of the last few problems, the film did feel as if it dragged on. It was certainly a slow burn of the film, which I liked at first, but quickly found it turning dull. Then Poirot seemed to solve the case from out of nowhere and the film took a strange path.
Still, I think the film was a decent watch and there is no doubt that Kenneth Branagh was special as Hercule Poirot. It is a beautiful film to watch, but the fact is that the story lets the film down and the great cast is wasted. Still, if you like murder mysteries, or an Agatha Christie story, then this might be a decent time at the theater.