This is not the first (or second time) Agatha Christie’s game-changing 1934 novel has been adapted into a film, but Kenneth Branagh’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) is the debut of Hercule Poirot as an invincible superhero not-so-humbly posing as ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’.
MURDER is mostly faithful to the source material (including its remarkable ending), so, for many, the ‘mystery’ portion of this murder mystery will not be present — and, unfortunately, the movie recognizes that by placing far greater importance on displaying Poirot’s brilliance. To make matters worse, even if you come in cold and with no prior knowledge of the story (Side Note: Like I did), the outcome is awfully predictable; with the clues clumsily spelt out for the viewer.
Director Kenneth Branagh (HAMLET, THOR) shines as the centerpiece of a film that, almost by design, ends up feeling like a vanity project. The often used close-ups that frame Branagh’s hysterically mustachioed face leave no question as to who is meant to be the true star here. Considering the names attached (Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, and Judi Dench), the supporting cast is both woefully underwritten and underutilized. Michael Green’s script did itself no service by failing to flesh out rather one dimensional characters, and it’s only to their credit that Pfeiffer (who nearly steals the show), Ridley, and a surprisingly effective Depp manage to leave their mark.
Technically, MURDER is a confusing mess. There are issues with tone, some noticeably jarring camerawork, an over-reliance of shoddy CG-backgrounds and landscapes, two unnecessary action sequences, an overall lack of realism, and an amateurishly obvious use of makeup (mostly on Depp). The second act is where the movie manages to work, but you must first get through an uneven open — and, then, only to be ultimately met with a convoluted and abrupt ending.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS has its moments, but it winds up feeling flat and completely mediocre. Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is enjoyable enough to warrant a future revisit, but, hopefully, in a far superior film.