I don’t quite know how it has happened, but I have managed to make it to twenty seven years of age without ever having found out the ending of Murder On The Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie’s most celebrated works and one of Hercule Poirot’s most iconic outings. Having successfully (and unwittingly) managed to evade one of the earliest examples of the #spoileralert culture, and with a cast full of performers whom I enjoy greatly, I went in to the cinema with the hope of a good old fashioned time and some intriguing whodunnit entertainment.
Sadly, I have to report that this particular telling of the famous tale did absolutely nothing for me. Murder On The Orient Express, more like Murder On The Bore-ient Express, am I right? Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh in the lead role, the film follows the legendary Belgian detective as he becomes involved with the solving of a gruesome murder aboard the Orient Express. The narrative progresses as a series of interrogations and set pieces involving the suspect passengers, ranging in class and status from a Princess (Judi Dench) to a rich widow (Michelle Pfeiffer) to a governess (Daisy Ridley), and although the combined talents and quality of the expansive cast are are no doubt impressive, the unfortunate truth is that the picture is irreparably dull.
Given the stellar cast list and proven popularity of the story, I have been wracking my brains trying to decipher just why Murder On The Orient Express failed to capture me, and I have surmised that a large portion of the blame must be placed at the feet of Kenneth Branagh. His take on the character of Poirot feels very much like a parody, which on its own is not necessarily a bad thing, but Branagh’s spoof-like performance is at odds with the more sincere, serious nature of the rest of the picture, and not in a fun, Coen brothers kind of way. Even more egregious to me is his lack of innovation with regards to the direction, something I have criticised him for before regarding 2015’s Cinderella. For a story that everybody (apart from me, clearly) already knows, filmmakers need to do something new or special to warrant yet another retelling. This version of Murder On The Orient Express is so safe and paint by numbers that it has to be be regarded as a missed opportunity.
One thing I will commend are the sweeping exterior shots of the train journey at regular intervals. These beautiful shots help to expand the film beyond its close carriage quarters and make it much more cinematic than you might imagine it could be. Having said that, what does actually go in inside the carriages is so formulaic and predictable that by the time the culprit is finally unmasked, I couldn’t have been less interested. I didn’t manage to guess the outcome, but equally, I had been so bored during the lead up that I simply didn’t care. If anything, Murder On The Orient Express is the perfect example of the fact that a film needs so much more than an exciting group of actors to be worth a watch.
Speaking of the large cast, each have their short time in the spotlight, and each do a perfectly solid job, but by its very nature, the story never allows enough time for the audience to become truly connected or invested in any one particular character. Of the dozen or so performances, those that stood out to me were Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham and Lucy Boynton as Countess Elena Andrenyi, but I suspect each individual viewer’s standouts will be purely based on the actors that they enjoy the most from previous experience.
Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff is criminally underused, almost too big of a name to inhabit a character so relatives insignificant to the narrative, but having said that the Dame’s presence always elevates any picture. It’s worth noting that once again, Kenneth Branagh as Poirot gives a type of marmite performance, you are either going to love it or you are going to hate it. Personally, I hated it, and simply because of the fact that the detective is a character who enjoys an overwhelming majority of screen time, whether to not you buy in to Branagh’s shtick is going to have a huge impact on your overall enjoyment of the picture.
Overall, it really boils down to the fact that this 2017 adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express does nothing that any of the previous countless versions haven’t done before. It may look the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, and it may very well have the most talented and appealing cast too, but neither the impressive shots nor the big names on show can stop the film from being plodding, predictable and at times downright boring experience. Just think, this opinion is coming from a viewer who didn’t actually know how the story was going to unfold, one can only imagine how much more mundane the film might feel if you already know what is coming.