“Murder on the Orient Express,” dir. Kenneth Branagh
A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful murder mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the story of thirteen stranded strangers and one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
From a technical standpoint, Kenneth Branagh has directed a marvelous looking film. Seeing the film on a stunning 70mm print was a pure delight as every frame had a richly detailed, colorful aesthetic. There are many gorgeous, long tracking shots crafted by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who worked previously with Branagh on “Thor” and “Cinderella,” using the enclosed location of the Orient Express to great effect.
Branagh infuses an immensely engaging personality into the character of Hercule Poirot. It’s a pure joy to witness this man solving the mystery as he commands the screen at every moment. He delivers each line with such elegance and nuance, never crossing the line into becoming an over the top caricature. He’s as delightfully vibrant of a character as the scenery itself.
“Murder on the Orient Express” has an all-star cast of top level talent like Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Josh Gad just to name a few. Every actor comes to play, delivering strong performances. However, screenwriter Michael Green, who worked on this year’s “Logan,” “Alien: Covenant,” and “Blade Runner 2049,” doesn’t give any of these actors enough to work with. The character development is thin at best and the personalities feel very isolated from each other.
Part of the fun of a good mystery is the audience going along for the ride and solving the crime along with the central character. Unfortunately, Poirot is always ten steps ahead of everyone else, using outside information that is never offered up or even foreshadowed so that the viewer can put the pieces together. Whenever this would happen, which it did frequently, it made it more frustrating to continue on with the mystery. The audience is simply told the clues instead of letting them figure it out for themselves.
In the end, despite having all the right pieces in place to make for a great mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express” begins to falter because they don’t mesh together well to create a fully satisfying experience. Branagh has an old school approach to the making of this story that is refreshing, which makes it even more unfortunate that it leads to a mixed bag. It’s still a film worth seeing, especially on a film print, however it won’t leave much of a lasting impact.
Have you seen “Murder on the Orient Express?” Is your local theater playing it on 70mm film? Leave a comment down below and let me know your thoughts.
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