The film doesn’t stray far from its famous source material, the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery novel. But Kenneth Branagh’s smart direction and lead performance as Hercule Poirot had me gripped from start to finish.
The film’s premise is as straightforward as its title suggests — someone has been murdered on a train, the Orient Express, during its journey from Jerusalem to Istanbul. When everyone onboard is a suspect, it’s up to the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, to sniff out the killer from the group of strangers.
“Murder on the Orient Express” boasts a packed cast of talented actors who all do a great job despite having very limited screen time. Daisy Ridley proves herself to be a great actress after her breakout role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and veteran actors including Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and Penélope Cruz continue to give reliable performances.
Surprisingly, Johnny Depp gives a more restrained performance than usual, and he benefits all the more for it. All the lesser-known actors hold their own too, with Tom Bateman’s Bouc injecting a good amount of charm as the owner of the titular train.
If there’s one flaw I can assign to the film, it’s the limited time spent with the suspected characters. It’s understandable, given the large list of suspects, and even then, this limitation made the narrative more interesting to follow. The fact that characters were frequently lying had me fully invested in tracking who did or said what. In other words, the film had my undivided attention.
Kenneth Branagh is the true star of the film. Branagh delivers a sincere performance as the conflicted Hercule Poirot. Weary of the world’s imperfections, which he is almost clairvoyantly cursed to notice, Branagh brings a very human sympathy to Poirot’s genius that is as compelling as it is delightful.
At times gracious, at others clicking and calculating, Branagh’s performance is incredibly well-layered and always entertaining. His exquisite mustache is the cherry on top of one of my favorite performances of the year so far.
Alongside Branagh’s performance, his direction of “Murder on the Orient Express” is top-notch. The train’s luxurious, claustrophobic halls squeeze ounces of dread and uneasiness, paired with some really neat tracking shots. In contrast, the open but freezing spaces of the snowy mountains provide gorgeous scenery to take in.
A sense of physical and psychological entrapment carries well throughout the film’s keen visuals and narrative. Though the premise is grisly, it’s executed gracefully and with a heartfelt voice. Poirot’s moral purpose compels itself through the film strongly, and watching the mystery of the case tear him apart is fascinating. I was left touched by Branagh’s sincere direction, and I hope he returns to direct the teased “Death on the Nile.”
Expertly directed and led by Branagh, “Murder on the Orient Express” is an excellent adaptation of Christie’s classic whodunnit novel.
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Hector Valverede is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.