Kenneth Branagh / UK, US / 2017 / 114 mins
Released at the Filmhouse cinema from Fri 3 Nov 2017
Renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) boards the Orient Express following a successful case in Jerusalem, but finds that his sleuthing skills are required when a suspicious American passenger, Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is found dead in his room. With the Express stranded due to an avalanche and a carriage full of suspects, each with their own possible motive for killing the unpleasant Mr Ratchett, Poirot faces his most difficult case yet.
This visually sumptuous adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic hits all of the required beats whilst also adding newer elements to distinguish it from earlier adaptations (most notably the 1974 version starring Albert Finney as the Belgian detective) without detracting from the main plot. Michael Green‘s screenplay expands on a case briefly referred to in the novel, creating a Jerusalem-set opening prologue establishing Poirot’s character for those unfamiliar through his quick solving of a theft of an ancient relic using his trademark powers of intuition, which also serves to emphasise the light-hearted aspects of the detective’s personality. Green adds a brief chase scene outside the Orient Express as well as two short opening and closing fight scenes that prevent the plot from becoming overly reliant on static, dialogue-focused interrogations of the suspects by Poirot.
The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos contrasts the golden hues of Jerusalem and Istanbul in the film’s first act with later icy-blue tinged atmospheric helicopter shots of the Orient Express travelling across snow-covered valleys. Zambarloukos also makes innovative use of a continuous overhead shot in the scene where Poirot discovers the body that further provides visual variety to an otherwise dialogue-based narrative.
The ensemble cast all provide high quality performances, with the most notable examples being a rare serious turn from Josh Gad as an accountant with a dark secret, Michelle Pfeiffer as a seemingly-superficial middle-aged divorcee looking for love and Branagh himself as Poirot.
Branagh, despite an unconvincing moustache that looks like it was pasted on, steps skilfully into the shoes of Finney and David Suchet by making the detective his own. He manages to capture Poirot’s astute abilities of intuition whilst also emphasising his more comedic aspects, which can be seen in the use of a running gag concerning the detective’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies with regards to boiled eggs. However, Branagh mostly succeeds in ensuring that his comedic moments do not overshadow the character’s inherent belief in the pursuit of justice, give or take the occasional excessive moment.
The film’s only other drawback is Tom Bateman‘s overly-mannered performance as Bouc, an old acquaintance of Poirot, which comes across as somewhat artificial in comparison with the more naturalistic performances from the rest of the cast, Branagh included.
Branagh, as well as a fine, star-studded cast, manage to breathe life into a much-told story. Murder On The Orient Express is an entertaining and thrilling mystery that engages both Agatha Christie fans and the general public as well as proving that no story can be told enough times.