Written by Aaron Radcliff:
I love Kenneth Branagh. As a child, whenever I wasn’t watching Jurassic Park on an endless loop, I’d be watching the wonderful BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs. There was something about Branagh that just pulled me to him. That love continued into the films I’ve seen him involved with whether he be in front of the camera or behind. So imagine the intrigue I had when the first trailer for Murder on the Orient Express came out. I was excited at the prospect of it all. What would Branagh deliver next? Would I love it as much as I did Dinosaurs and Hamlet?
Well…he still knows how to make things beautiful, that’s for sure.
Murder on the Orient Express is based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie. It revolves around world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) who finds himself traveling from Istanbul across Europe in order to investigate a case in London. However, Poirot soon finds himself in his most challenging case aboard the famed Orient Express (and the case is NOT about who’s in the kitchen with Dinah…I’m permitted one terrible train joke). No, t’was murder on the Orient Express and everyone’s a suspect and equally guilty.
If you were to look at the on-screen star power alone as well as the release date, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was trying to get a slight jump on the Oscar-bait time of year because that’s the exact thought that I had. Along with Branagh, we have Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr., and a partridge in a pear tree. So many stars, so many focuses, so many individual stories that could be explored and I literally can’t tell anyone apart.
I have to admit that I’ve read the book and was well aware of the ending. I was also aware of the fact that we would not spend much time with all of these characters because this is a detective story; it works best when we know little about these people going into it. But everyone is so samey. Aside from Branagh, nobody distinguishes themselves thus making any reason to be interested in them or the case immediately fall flat. It’s essentially Branagh in a train with a dozen robots with a motive and alibi.
In fact, there’s one instance toward the end where the music swells and it’s this emotional scene and I felt absolutely nothing. Maybe that says more about me as a person than I care to admit, or that shows the characterization hasn’t been given enough time for me to give even the slightest care in the world before it gets carried away to the whim of the winds and my bored sighs.
Now I know that, given the source material, there is only so much you can do with the story. But imagine my surprise to find the screenplay being done by Michael Green. Yes, THAT Michael Green; The man who helped pen the screenplays for Logan, Blade Runner 2049 (both of which are in my top five movies of the year) and helped write episodes for Smallville and Heroes. My point is, if you’re adapting something or trying to make a story with multiple layers, he certainly would be considered a first choice. It seems like he just decided to bank on the prior projects and rewrite the whole novel with less intrigue and hope nobody noticed.
If you’ve read the story then you’ll know how this goes. It appeared as though there might be a twist that I was excited for but I immediately fell back to Earth when I realized they were going with the traditional ending. I’m not saying tradition is bad, but with such a well-known story, you’d think they would’ve gone with something new and unique.
If you remember exactly 529 words ago, I said that Branagh still knows how to make things beautiful, and that’s evidenced here. There are a couple of obvious instances of CGI, but otherwise, the scenery and visuals are gorgeous thanks to the use of 65mm cameras. Meanwhile, Branagh himself was a very enjoyable Poirot. There are rumors that there could be future sequels with the character, and I’d honestly enjoy that. I’d like to see him sport that horrifyingly awesome mustache and give that Sherlock Holmes schmuck a run for his money. And despite what I said about the characters, the cast portrayed their roles well…too bad their roles consisted of being boring.
If you haven’t read the story, I’m sure you’ll get sucked into the investigation and leave enjoying yourself. But if you’ve read the story or know the plot, expect a beautiful but lifeless retread of missed potential.
Score: 5 out of 10
Photo via 20th Century Fox