Murder On The Orient Express is a near perfect cinematic explosion. Kenneth Branagh who directs and stars in the Agatha Christie classic assembles a film with a phenomenal ensemble, breathtaking set pieces, and an irregular narrative tempo. This film hits its mark and is an excellent example of modernizing a classic, yet staying true to the adapted work.
Branagh is an anomaly when it comes to contemporary cinema. He is a classically trained actor who became an auteur by updating classic literature by casting movie stars and adapting to CGI and modern moviemaking. With his latest vehicle, he plays the flamboyant and eccentric detective Hercule Poirot, who accidentally finds himself in a tangled and unbelievable murder mystery on a train.
Branagh casts the perfect actor to accentuate each character’s stereotype while making excellent use of the respective actor’s typecast. Daisy Ridley plays the Governess, Penelope Cruz the exotic and mysterious missionary, Josh Gad the nervous and frumpy secretary, Derek Jacobi the stoic butler, Michelle Pfeiffer the aging beauty, Judi Dench the shrewd royalty, Willem Dafoe the hard nosed Austian, and Johnny Depp as the charismatic gangster. Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese could not have cast better actors for each role.
Branagh’s embracement of CGI looks and feels like what a film with the same effects would have looked like if David Lean or John Huston would have made a film in contemporary Hollywood. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is spellbinding, and the editing by Mick Audsley paces the film very briskly at first, and then slows the film down, almost to halt as Poirot sleuths his way through the third act of the film. Patrick Doyle’s score is beautifully tragic, and the root cause of much of the emotional pull this film takes from its audience.
The film, much like the source material and classic film by Sydney Lumet, is as humorous as it is powerful, mixing near slapstick comedy and heavy dramatic moments that fuse together in a serendipitous way. Films like this do not come around very often, and when they do more times than not they are stuck in conventionality and muddled plot points. Murder On The Orient Express is a refreshing adaptation that makes one yearn for more classics to be brought to screen in such a refreshing way.
Review by Frank Mengarelli