Exquisitely photographed by Haris Zambarloukos, Director of Photography, with a gorgeous soundtrack by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle, Kenneth Branagh's version of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express", a timeless whodunit classic, is spectacularly lush, sporting an all-star cast. Branagh himself plays the much-loved, renowned detective Hercule Poirot with a certain panache, rather different than David Suchet, the marvelous actor who brought him to life for many years on PBS.
As director, Branagh brings his own well-documented style to Michael Green's Agatha Christie Ltd.'s approved screenplay. Christie's estate is run by Mathew Prichard, her grandson, and James Prichard, her great-grandson, and both gentlemen were eager to have Branagh directing and starring in this important project. First published in 1934, "Murder on the Orient Express" has been touted as one of the most ingenious murder mysteries ever written.
There are 13 people aboard this ultra-luxurious train, and after the brutal murder, everyone is a suspect --- except, of course, for Poirot. He is pressed into service to solve this puzzling crime by Bouc (Tom Bateman), the young man tasked with overseeing the excursion by his uncle's company.
Poirot, who was only hoping to read and relax, is first approached by Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), an American gangster seeking protection. He has been receiving death threats and wishes to employ Poirot to watch his back.
The other passengers are an odd collection ranging from a widow, Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), a butler, Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi), a missionary, Pilar Extravados (Penelope Cruz), a Count and Countess (Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton), to Princess Dragomiroff (Dame Judi Dench) and her maid, Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman). The situation on board becomes almost unbearable when a snow avalanche derails the train's engine and a dead body is discovered. Only Poirot can solve this intriguing mystery.
I barely remember Sidney Lumet's 1974 version because I fell asleep in the theater during the movie. Christie's crimes are cerebral, thus, they may be a tad slow in parts. But Branagh doesn't allow Green's script to dawdle. His pace is relatively brisk, keeping the audience on track and the subplot from getting mired in minutia.
The breathtaking scenery and stunning photography add a great deal to this period piece, along with the sumptuous costumes by Alexandra Byrne. There will always be the Suchet devotees who believe only he is the one true Poirot. Branagh is more than adequate, lending his personal take to the character. The entire ensemble is perfectly cast with Dench and Pfeiffer as particular standouts. If you are a fan of Christie's, it would be a huge shame to miss this latest offering.
Opinion: See It Now!
My first reaction to this latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic 1934 novel is "Ce qu'un plâtre!" That's French for "What a cast!"
The Orient Express was a famed luxury train dating from 1883 which transported wealthy passengers from Paris to Istanbul and back, plus points in between. So, of course, Ms. Christie decided a murder on the train would make for a good mystery. This version of "Murder on the Orient Express" does not disappoint, thanks to an all-star cast, excellent direction from Kenneth Branagh, and truly spectacular filmmaking with a variety of unusual camera angles.
French detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is on vacation, or so he thinks. When shady American gangster/con man Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches him on the train with the princely offer of $15,000 to protect him from an unknown assailant, who may be aboard, Poirot refuses. He just wants to relax.
However --- a murder does occur --- and Poirot's instincts take over. He must solve the crime. Naturally, he eventually does figure out who is guilty, something I doubt any moviegoer without prior knowledge of the novel, or another adaptation, would be able to do. Yes, "Murder on the Orient Express" keeps you guessing until the climactic ending, and because virtually everyone on the train is a legitimate suspect, it's worth the wait.
The middle of the movie bogs down a bit while Poirot interviews potential killers --- mostly routine stuff. But watching the train barrel through the gorgeous scenery, and then be derailed due to a minor avalanche --- is spectacular viewing. As the film reaches its denouement, Poirot has the remaining 12 passengers seated at a long table --- audible audience snickers as it has the look of "The Last Supper" --- in what is a gripping conclusion, and a shocking surprise.
Branagh's Poirot is marvelous. His French accent, along with Poirot's famous moustache and fastidious attire, are flawless. And to think Branagh also directs is an amazing feat.
The rest of the cast includes the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley and Derek Jacobi, plus a host of lesser known actors who are all great contributors. Join them for a ride on this train, and you will be regally entertained.
Opinion: See It Now!