by Ellen Case
A stranded train, a group of mysterious and colorful characters and the world’s best detective. Agatha’s Christie story of “Murder on the Orient Express” is a tale that has been retold since the book was originally published, a stranded train, a group of mysterious and colorful characters and the world’s best detective. Famous Hollywood directors have tackled the mystery as well as British television directors.
Most well-read audiences already know the ending. Veteran actor and director Kenneth Branagh had to bring a story with such elaborate history and a well-known conclusion while giving audiences a reason to be interested.
Hercule Poirot, Christie’s famous and beloved detective, is invited to take the Orient Express train from Istanbul by a friend. On the train, he meets the mysterious first-class passengers also traveling on the train, including a businessman with his butler and secretary, a governess, a doctor, a princess and her maid, a Count and his wife, a missionary, a professor and a salesman. When a passenger is murdered, it is up to Poirot (and his mustache, which deserves credit) to find the culprit.
Branagh brings Christie’s world to the big screen in a unique and colorful way. The cinematography is alive and original with the dusty, exotic streets of the Middle East to the snowy mountains where the derailed, richly furnished train stands still. The costumes also play into the story with details and colors that draw the eye to both the setting and the story.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the cast. Branagh brings wit to Poirot’s extreme intelligence and is the main source of the film’s laughs. Johnny Depp is sly as the businessman Rachet while Josh Gad gives a grand, dramatic turn as his secretary. Dame Judi Dench blesses the audience with her presence as the Princess and Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom, Jr. plays his doctor in a suspicious manner.
However, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley shine most. This year has marvelously marked the return of Pfeiffer and, as usual, she does not disappoint. Her role as a husband-hunting American is one of the most interesting and intriguing parts of the film and reminds the world of what they have missed.
Ridley, in her first live-action role since coming to the world’s attention in “Star Wars Episode VII,” shows a more dramatic side as the governess Mary Debenham, whose relationship with Poirot is an interesting piece of the story.
While Branagh does a good job keeping to Christie’s story without extending it, the film lacks much modern interest. While classic lovers of British literature (or television) will delight in Branagh’s adaptation, viewers unfamiliar with the British writer or disinterest in period dramas will be lost. Furthermore, with a cast as large as the ones gathered on the Orient Express, many members’ performances are barely noticeable.
The film brings style and a new, bold take on a classic novel with daring cinematography and a talented cast, all with an indefensible mustache.