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Murder on the Orient Express – Movie Review

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Murder on the Orient Express – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

With a mystery story as famous and well respected as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, how much would you want to rock the boat? Kenneth Branagh chooses primarily to do a straight-forward adaptation and that’s fine. While some elements could have been spruced up to liven the proceedings a tad, this mostly exists as a serviceable version and an excuse for the large ensemble of actors to play dress-up. Branagh seems to enjoy putting each act together, while playing around with a giant train set. There’s an old-fashioned feel to this film that is rather refreshing as we move from compartment to compartment, solving the mystery along with Hercule Poirot.

Murder on the Orient Express happily rests on the words of Agatha Christie and its game cast to steer it along. The most fun part of the film ends up being the set-up as we’re introduced to each major cast member, one by one. Although it’s helped by many of them being famous faces, each character is nonetheless distinguishable enough that they could easily be the color-coded suspects in Clue. One clever tracking shot has the actors spread throughout the train as Poirot steps on board. Played with a comically large moustache, Branagh appears confident as he walks into each comportment and performs his interrogations. He’s not presented with any flaws, but that could almost be the point. He’s above having flaws that violate his perfect world and, in an amusing running gag, a correctly aligned breakfast.

Due to the play-like structure and style of the film, Branagh and his director of photography Haris Zambarloukos try to implement as many clever camera angles as possible. There’s an impressively done overhead shot upon the first discovery of the murder. There are POV shots and tracking shots that bring us right into Poirot’s head. And yes, Branagh’s familiar use of Dutch angles makes an appearance here. This allows the interrogation scenes to have a bit more of a cinematic quality to them, rather then merely filming a group of people in a room. Even the flashbacks are shown in black-and-white, just to give that added air of mystery and intrigue.

Due to Branagh commanding the show, there isn’t necessarily a stand-out in the suspect’s line-up. All play their roles well and never feel anachronistic. One merely wishes the final reveal had an added oomph to it. The entire film, clocking in at a little under two hours, seems to abruptly decide when to reveal the true culprit. What can be admired is the level of restraint here. It would have been easy to throw together a bunch of action set-pieces, but Murder on the Orient Express prefers a more talkative approach. A chase and a gun fight abound, but these fit into the plot and the “everyone is a suspect” intrigue of the piece.

Some people might wish Kenneth Branagh weren’t so respectful to the text and went his own direction. Those looking for a straight adaptation will happily find that here. Is he playing it safe or merely taking a step back and letting Agatha Christie do the work? Either way, one can admire the old-school approach in telling this story. This is a film that doesn’t attempt to play to a younger audience who would want a bit more action in their mystery stories. When you hear about Murder on the Orient Express, this is about the film you would expect. Will Branagh reprise the role in future films? The final scene seems to hint at that and it would ultimately be a unique franchise in a sea of superhero interconnected universes.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison