Murder on the Orient Express
Jacob Richardson | 13/11/2017
With Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh brings beautiful scenery, costumes and effects to an otherwise middling murder mystery.
When he finds himself heading back to England on the Orient Express, Hercules Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is expecting three nights of pure enjoyment. Alas, the packed train is the scene of a murder, and Poirot is expected to solve it.
Branagh’s interpretation of the classic novel and film adaptation is interesting, for sure, and it works well for the first two acts. Branagh hams up his French accent in the extreme, but he is surrounded by a cast of incredible actors, who manage to drive audience engagement from the off. Daisy Ridley is incredible in her introduction, and Johnny Depp’s early interactions with Poirot are beautifully underplayed dialogue scenes. Michelle Pfeiffer is also really great; a slightly off-kilter heiress sort, having a last bit of fun before she returns home.
As a director, Branagh has always been incredibly talented at world building. We saw this in Thor, where he created an Asgard that made us want to be immersed in it. Here, confined in a train cabin, he does the same thing, creating a world around this rolling beast that feels incredibly enticing. It’s a beautiful expression of old world opulence, as the moving steam train is decked out with the finest cutlery, linen, champagne and perfectly cooked eggs.
Kenneth Branagh brings this same sense to the early interactions, creating almost a perfect dinner party of strange guests that brings a sense of intrigue to every line of dialogue. Every non-Poirot character is just wild and off-kilter enough to create a nice interplay with the famously fastidious detective.
This creates a great dynamic in the second act, as Poirot goes about the train trying to find the little idiosyncrasies that point to the killer. Unfortunately, once we hit the third act, everything gets thrown slightly askew.
At the start of the film, Poirot mentions that he sees things only in black and white. To him there is order, and chaos, and nothing in between. Yet, in the third act (after a revelation that is wholly unexpected and quite engaging), he not only acts like a madman, proclaiming that the only way forward is for someone to kill him, but also decides that there are grey areas in life. This is a complete 180 in terms of character, and hasn’t been foreshadowed whatsoever. The final minutes of the film play out like wish fulfilment for the killer, as Poirot decides not to turn him in. But it isn’t based on anything. It’s a betrayal of the character that makes a, if not innovative, certainly beautiful and well-made majority of the film feel like sleight of hand. It’s a shame, because for the most part Murder on the Orient Express is a fun, and funny, detective film.
Murder on the Orient Express is actually quite a lot of fun for the most part. Poirot’s giant moustache bobs through a pastiche of entertaining, if often one-dimensional, characters on this metallic dragon of the rails, constantly entertaining and often giving insight into the nature of clues. It’s in the final act that the film comes off the rails, crashing hard into the side of the mountain that is studio mandated happy endings.