It’s fair to say no one loves Kenneth Branagh on the screen as much as Kenneth Branagh does behind the camera in the latest version of Murder On The Orient Express.
And while the lavish, star-studded affair looks sumptuous in its vistas, it narratively stutters to a halt around the same time the famed Orient Express derails.
For those unfamiliar with Agatha Christie’s novel and the plot, it centres around the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh, complete with hair lip) who tries to take some rest on a trip but finds himself called upon to solve a murder mystery on board the famed Orient Express.
When a man is found stabbed to death in his compartment on the train, it seems like everyone on board has some kind of motive to be involved.
However, the deeper Poirot delves, the more puzzling the case seems – can the self-professed greatest detective solve the mystery before the snowclad train begins its journey again?
While Murder on The Orient Express is lavishly shot on 65mm, and starts off dizzyingly with Poirot solving a case at the Wailing Wall (involving a priest, an imam and a rabbi, as the old joke apparently goes), the film comes a bit of a cropper when it starts to try and crack the conundrum.
It becomes clear that there are too many in the ensemble to give the film the time it needs to breathe – with a cast that numbers the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi to name but a few, the narrative groans under the strain of not enough time for any of them – other than Poirot himself. And some, such as Penelope Cruz’s religious mouse get nary any oxygen needed to breathe any life upon the screen.
As a result, everyone becomes a bit of a once-over-lightly character – be it Depp’s spiv-like villain or Dench’s sneering Russian aristocrat.
It’s not helped by the fact that the central mystery requires reams of exposition as the final reveal unmasks the culprit and motive.
To be fair, it’s not Branagh’s fault, merely the source material – and whilst most of the screen time is devoted to Poirot’s bizarre chortling at Dickens or picking up his borderline OCD autistic tendencies, Branagh does also manage to imbue some wearied sadness into his eyes as he tries to escape the right and wrong of life.
Whilst his Poirot is perhaps not as iconic as David Suchet’s portly moustachioed investigator, this one has a little more depth than perhaps you’d expect – and certainly doesn’t have the flashiness of the modern day Sherlock Holmes, as depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Perhaps therein lies an element of the problem as well – this is a film that’s very much of its time, a period piece that has none of the accoutrements of a modern day adaptation other than perhaps a smattering of Hollywood’s current glitterati. It’s a curio on that front then, and one which modern day audiences may struggle with the pacing of (it goes distinctly off the boil in the middle).
While the film throws a cursory mention of a problem on the Nile in its conclusion, hinting at more for Belgium’s greatest detective, one of the more infamous cases from the pen of Agatha Christie leaves you with a sad feeling of indifference.
Unfortunately, it’s almost as if this Orient Express has been slightly derailed by the narrative it leaves on the line as it departs the cinematic platform.
Murder On The Orient Express
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Running time: 113 minutes