“Murder on the Orient Express” is an 83-year-old best-selling mystery novel that has been adapted for radio, television and the big screen.
In other words, this story has been told numerous times, in numerous ways.
Director Kenneth Branagh, working off a script by Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Logan”), delivers the second cinematic spin on the Agatha Christie story, and maintains the crux of the plot with a few character changes and a new introduction in Jerusalem showcasing our hero’s sleuthing skills.
Branagh plays that hero, famed detective Hercule Poirot, complete with a ludicrous mustache — seriously, it’s so crazy- looking it would turn heads in Williamsburg.
The Belgian detective Poirot is boarding the lavish Orient Express, a fancy train for the elite crossing Europe in the 1930s. He’s hoping for a break from his day job, until he’s coaxed into taking on a new case — investigating a murder committed on board that very train, where the passengers and crew are the only suspects. The only one Poirot can trust is his pal Bouc (a light and breezy Tom Bateman).
But there are a lot of passengers, with a lot of significant actors playing them, including Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr., Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi, to name a few. Despite the familiar nature of this story, we’ll avoid revealing who gets killed and whodunit.
Visually, the film looks spectacular. The 1930s setting is intricately recreated, and the scenes of the train chugging through the mountain vistas are beautiful.
But the story can be slow and the huge cast, while integral to the mystery, is unwieldy and underdeveloped. There are numerous tense interrogation scenes and small character moments that try and give the passengers some kind of personality beyond just archetypes.
This really is Branagh’s show, however, and he certainly commands the screen as the meticulous and proper detective. The mystery isn’t engrossing, but the journey is worth the ride. And if this movie has any type of success at the box office, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Branagh don that silly mustache again.