|Posted by Nick Spake on November 8, 2017 at 5:35 PM|
When it was announced that Kenneth Branagh was adapting “Murder on the Orient Express” for modern audiences, it was hard not to think of when Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Outside of their craft and performances, both of these murder mysteries stand out thanks to their killer twist endings. So if you’ve already seen the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” this new one isn’t exactly going to take you by surprise. Of course with “Psycho,” virtually everyone has seen it and even those who hadn’t knew how the film ends. “Murder on the Orient Express,” on the other hand, has perhaps slipped through the cracks for some, especially younger viewers. On that basis, Branagh’s interpretation is a worthy remake and a solid introduction for those unfamiliar with the classic Agatha Christie tale.
The title alone pretty much spells out the setup. Branagh plays Hercule Poirot, who you can tell is a master detective based on his mustache alone. While traveling on the Orient Express, Poirot crosses paths with a fellow passenger named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who believes his life is on the line. Ratchett is right, as he winds up dead the next morning with twelve stab wounds. When an avalanche literally stops the train dead in its tracks, Poirot conducts an investigation in which every passenger is a suspect.
The original film featured an all-star cast that included Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar-winning role. This version brings together an equally impressive ensemble with the likes of Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, and Michelle Pfeiffer, just to name a few. They all fit comfortably into their parts and never feel out of place in the film’s 1930s setting. Branagh in particular manages to be as dignified as Sherlock Holmes while also being as over-the-top as Adrian Monk. It might sound blasphemous, but I actually prefer his portrayal over Albert Finney’s, which always felt a little too close to Inspector Clouseau.
Branagh deserves just as much credit for his work behind the camera. Although much of the film is limited to a confined area, Branagh keeps things interesting with inventive camera angles. The cinematography never becomes gimmicky or distracting like in a Guy Ritchie movie, though. The art direction, costumes, and musical score additionally make for an extremely well crafted picture. Even some of the CGI imagery and green screen effects, while sometimes obvious, are still executed with a fair deal of class.
All in all, everything that worked about 1974’s “Murder on the Orient Express” works here. That being said, not everything about the original film was perfect. Both versions suffer from pacing issues, especially in the sluggish middle. There’s also one too many characters to keep track of, even for a film that almost runs for two hours. You could argue that these problems stem from the 1934 novel that started it all. As far as Agatha Christie’s works go, I’d personally take “And Then There Were None” over “Murder on the Orient Express” any day. Nevertheless, the story does have its merits and Branagh’s take more than does them justice.
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Stars