As much as it shames me, to the best of my knowledge I have not seen an episode of David Suchet’s version of Poirot. I know, burn me at the stake of classic murder mystery television.
Murder on the Orient Express is the latest adaptation of the eponymous thriller story by Agatha Christie, this time directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring him as Hercules Poirot and pretty much every major star in the world right now as the guests upon the Orient Express. Of course, because Poirot is on the train, during the night, one of the passengers is murdered and it is up to the great Belgian sleuth to discover the culprit.
The trailer for this film got me more excited than I have been for other thrillers recently. It was one of the few times in which I was excited due to the people in front of the camera rather than the people behind.
Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Johnny Depp are among the passengers.
Ensemble films I can get behind. The danger though is the possibility that these famous faces might distract from the rest of the film. This fortunately is not as much of an issue as might have happened, due to the relatively balanced nature of the cast of characters. I say relatively as Olivia Coleman, for my money the greatest actress of our age, is woefully underutilised, though she does shine in the few moments she is permitted to do something.
Kenneth Branagh does like to make his films like the theatre from which he was born. The performances he brings out are pretty over-the-top at times and there is a flair for the dramatic in whatever he does. This is not by any means a bad thing. His own acting here is utterly sublime as a new, enormously moustached Poirot that I would love to see more from.
The problem that really bugged me through the beginning of the movie is the tremendous clip at which everything moves. Characters and situations are set up way too fast. Moments don’t get a chance to sink in. There were times when I genuinely couldn’t tell what was happening as the camera swirled around and around.
Once we were on the train, the elements come together and Kenneth becomes a great director again, always finding the right places to place a scene within this tight space and pulling out the best from his cast.
This is a mystery I would be hard-pressed to say people will not enjoy.
Recommended Scenario: If you want a classic mystery with a modern thriller sensibility.