Hot Take: The all-star cast and Branagh’s direction isn’t enough. What starts as an interesting “Whodunit?” becomes a “Who-cares-whodunit?”
The latest remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express has such promise at the beginning. Kenneth Branagh’s first appearance on screen as famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is entertaining as he solves a case at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The director/star sets a stage of grandeur and old fashioned glitz that gives the film such promise. As the film churns along, Murder On The Orient Express becomes a bit of a chore to watch which is never good for any film but especially not good for one that is an old fashioned murder mystery. Despite the film being stacked with talent and featuring a highly regarded Christie novel to rely on for a story, somehow Branagh’s version comes up well short and the only one who appears to be enjoying themselves is Branagh in his self-indulgent turn as Poirot.
I wanted to like Murder On The Orient Express. I really did. I don’t know if I would necessarily call it a bad movie, either. There’s plenty to be entertained by here. None of the stellar cast turn in a bad performance. Branagh might take his portrayal of Poirot too far in its over-the-top tendencies but even then it’s entertaining. The other Orient Express passengers give the opportunity for solid performances from Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Willem Defoe, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr. and a few other lesser known performers. So, what is it about Murder On The Orient Express that fails to hold at least this viewer’s interest? It feels much longer than its 114 minute run time as Branagh’s tendency to chew on every scene he’s in (which is 95% of the movie) becomes a bit grating. The handle bar mustachioed Branagh starts out entertaining but eventually becomes hotdogging as he flexes the character’s wit and the portrayal feels out of place in a film that takes it self far too serious to feature a character with such a glorious but cartoonish mustache.
By the end of Murder On The Orient Express, I was conflicted. There were times where I really enjoyed Branagh’s performance as Poirot and with hints of a follow-up as we leave him heading for a case on the Nile, I’m unsure I’d willingly join him for a second attempt to make an impression as the famed Christie detective. Noticeably, I’m spending a lot of time talking about Branagh here and that might be the problem in and of itself. While the other star-caliber cast members put on solid performances, they are all overshadowed by Branagh who never walks away from any scene without trying to steal it away. He’s almost having too much fun as Poirot and since he’s also the director, there’s no one around to stop him from overindulging. What ends up happening is that the story takes a backseat and eventually, you’re worn down to not caring who did it or why as you know the great Hercule Poirot will figure it all out because, well, he’s just so damn spectacular, isn’t he?
Murder On The Orient Express fails to deliver a hook which, in a murder/mystery, should always be the case. Even as a Christie novice and only having superfluous knowledge of the story, I failed to take interest in the case as it unfolded and, at times, felt the film should have been called Hercule Poirot instead of keeping with its original title. Most detectives watch, survey and listen. This one is so engrained in every outcome, you start to wonder why he’s perhaps the greatest detective in the world. One thing is for certain with this shiny remake, there’s something off with its choice to spend so much time on Poirot and relegate the rest of the cast from first-class passengers to coach. The real crime of this latest version of Murder isn’t the murder but the waste of the talent surrounding the director/star.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The First 15
The introduction of Branagh as Poirot has such promise. Eventually, the novelty wears off but it’s likely you’ll at least enjoy his first moments on screen.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Other 99
After the introduction, Murder On the Orient Express derails and never lives up to the promise of the opening scenes.
- Grossly Underutilized Talent
When Branagh’s goofy facial hair has more significance in the level of enjoyment you take away from the movie than a cast of Academy Award winners and nominees, it’s not hard to deduce the film has problems.