Kenneth Branagh brings us the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” just in time for the holidays. Aside from the 1974 feature film, there was a television movie (2001) and an episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot (2010). Much like the 1974 adaptation which featured Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, and many others, this new version is packed to the rim with an A+ cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and more. So is this amazing cast and filmmaker able deliver a film worthy of their talents and source material? Unfortunately, aside from some good performances and looking quite beautiful (was shot on 65mm film), “Murder on the Orient Express” was so incredibly dull.
I haven’t seen the original film in more than three decades and truth-be-told, I barely remember it, so I can’t compare this new version to that one. I have also never seen the television adaptations. I do know that a murder-mystery should be intriguing and should keep the audience guessing. Right from the beginning I knew we were in some trouble as we are introduced to Inspector Hercule Poirot (Branagh) and his wonderful mustache. We get to see his skill at solving crimes, but the problem is that the audience will probably guess who the criminal is the moment we see all whom were at the scene of the crime.
If you have seen the early trailers for “Murder” than you should be able to guess who it is that is murdered. Most of the film’s running time focuses on Poirot interviewing all of the passengers and each of them seem to have had a motive. That is usually the case in most murder mysteries. As good as the cast is, Poirot’s interview with each character fails to be engaging. Even Josh Gad who I am a huge fan of just isn’t able to bring much to his character. Branagh gets all of the film’s best lines, even if we don’t quite understand them due to Poirot’s thick Belgian accent.
On a positive note, I was unable to figure out who the killer was prior to the review. Most of the time I am able to figure it out, but this one I had no clue. Unfortunately by the time we get the reveal, I honestly didn’t care. I don’t mind a dialogue-heavy holiday blockbuster. They are very rare and I love listening to compelling characters interact with each other. However, very few of the characters in “Murder” actually speak to each other and because of this we are mostly focused on Poirot. What’s the point of having such an impressive cast if you aren’t going to give them much to do? “Murder” runs about 110 minutes, but it feels almost a half hour longer. This isn’t a terrible film, but with such great talent involved, it shouldn’t have turned out so mediocre.
By: Marc Ferman