A middling journey: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ review

At least Branagh’s mustache game is on point.

Murder on the Orient Express is not the first time that one of Agatha Christie’s signature characters, Hercule Poirot, has been adapted to the screen. The detective first appeared in a 1974 version of Orient Express when he was played by Albert Finney. He was also played by Peter Ustinov in Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982), as well as having a mini-series based around him — Agatha Christie’s Poirot —when he was portrayed by David Suchet.

This is, however, the first time that we’ve seen established director and actor Kenneth Branagh take on the property. Known for directing a handful of Shakespeare adaptations (Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), the first Thor movie and Disney’s live-action Cinderella, Branagh has a talent for bringing a certain level of stylized class to his projects.

Murder on the Orients Express is no exception. Branagh brings his all to the film, as he directs and stars in this classic story for a new audience.

Murder on the Orient Express
Credit: YouTube

It’s the 1930s. Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is, as he puts it, “probably the greatest detective in all the world.” He never fails to find the clues that no one else sees, solving the impossible mysteries when all hope seems lost.

The problem is, Poirot is tired. He’s been doing this job for a long time, traveling from country to country and having to sacrifice any form of a personal life as a result. After cracking another case in Jerusalem, he’s ready for a break.

Which is why Poirot isn’t necessarily complaining when the opportunity to travel on the Orient Express comes his way. It’s a three-day train ride from Istanbul to London that should be nothing but rest and relaxation. Granted, the train is bringing him to another case, but it’s a couple of days that gives him a chance to kick back and take his mind off of work.

Murder on the Orient Express
Credit: YouTube

At least, that’s what it should have been. That illusion doesn’t last very long as, after the first night, one of the passengers is murdered. Poirot’s friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) works on the train and begs him to solve the case before the police arrive.

Against his better judgment, Poirot reluctantly agrees and begins examining the other passengers and motives they might have. Amongst them is a wide variety of characters, ranging anywhere from princesses to counts.

Poirot knows he doesn’t have long. While he’s clouded in uncertainty, there’s one thing he knows is true — a killer will always try to kill again.

Murder on the Orient Express is at its best when Branagh is lighting up the screen. The actor has charisma for days, his portrayal of Poirot is an engaging and humorous one to watch. Branagh also does great work behind the camera, creating an inviting atmosphere and setting that holds a certain level of panache.

The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the characters. While the cast is stacked — Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley and Olivia Colman all appear in the film — none of them are given all that much to do. Their characters exist solely to spout of exposition and serve as plot devices with little amounts of screen-time, all becoming confused and forgettable in the process.

Murder on the Orient Express
Credit: YouTube

The film also struggles in establishing and then sticking with a clear tone. The first act of the film, which is by far the best act of the film, comes off as a lighter vibe that’s much in the same vein as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies. After the first half-hour, however, there’s a shift and the script attempts to take on much heavier content. The problem, then, is that Murder on the Orient express can’t find the right balance between serious and fun to be able to hold up on re-watch.

Murder on the Orient Express could have, and probably should have, been great. There are some well-crafted moments in the film for sure, but the overall product can’t quite get there. This could have been a new, updated version of Clue, but Orient Express winds up paling in comparison. There are a few things to keep you guessing (I didn’t solve the entire case before the reveal, but I got pretty close) that makes the film a great rental, but perhaps not worth shelling out the money to see in theaters.

Watch the trailer for Murder on the Orient Express below, let us know what you thought of the film in the comments below, and see where it ranked on our list of films in 2017 we’re still excited for by clicking here.

A middling journey: 'Murder on the Orient Express' review
  • A middling journey: 'Murder on the Orient Express' review
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.