Who doesn’t love a good mystery? There has always been enjoyment in the old “who-dun-it” story. It’s so satisfying looking at all the clues yourself and discovering which of the characters presented is the villain. Sadly, this only really works when the story is, well, good. I don’t think anyone can deny that the grand-masters of this type of story were Arthur Conan Doyle – with his Sherlock Holmes stories – and Agatha Christie. Christie has written plenty of books – none of which I have read. But, what many consider to be her magnum-opus is Murder on the Orient Express.
The story is simple yet complex and as classic as they come. Hercule Poirot is the world’s greatest detective. The Belgian has just solved a case and is now on his way to a well-earned holiday. Taking the Orient Express, Poirot comes across colourful characters with their own stories to tell. Along the way, however, an avalanche halts the train and one of the passengers, the sinister Mr Ratchett, has been brutally murdered. Taking it upon himself to work out who the killer is, Poirot soon discovers that this case is linked to another murder years ago. The case takes one dark turn after another, until Poirot realises that this may be the greatest case of his career.
This has got to be the latest in about half a dozen adaptations of the popular novel. To be fair, if there was ever a man to bring this story to life then my money would be on Kenneth Branagh. Branagh directs and stars in the lead role here, and to his credit does very well in both roles. The directing of this film is nearly impeccable. The colours alone in this film draw you into the atmosphere of the story. Atmosphere being what this film does exceedingly well. You feel like you are on this train with these people. It’s nice and posh, delivering a nice bit of wow-factor – yet, tension never leaves you because you know that someone you are enclosed with is a murderer. Honestly, not really knowing the whole story before seeing this film, I was very surprised with how dark this film was at points.
Along with Branagh and his charismatic and enigmatic performance, we have an all-star cast of would-be killers. Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench are included in the line-up, with Johnny Depp as the unfortunate victim of the crime. All of them play their parts perfectly. They all have charisma and always feel like they have more to say than what they do. This often throws you off the scent of the killer, but also keeps you suspecting every single one of them. The identity of the killer being a well-hidden secret until the shocking reveal. But sadly, this is also a major part of the films problem.
With such an ensemble of characters, everyone is limited in screen time. Add to that the fact that everyone is guarded and refuses to tell all and you have characters who are well performed yet you really do not care for. It actually got so bad that there were points in the film where they were talking about a character and I honestly could not work out who they were on about. Because of this, the film does have its dragging moments. It’s never boring, I’ll make that clear. But there were scenes I felt could have been cut down. Another issue is the jarring tone of the film. It starts off rather light-hearted and even jokingly, a tone which does run throughout the film, to be fair. The problem is that it is partnered with the tone of a dark and twisted thriller, with themes of homicide, suicide and infanticide. This makes the light tone seem false, or the dark tone appear far darker than intended.
As an adaptation of the work, Murder on the Orient Express appears to do the job. It’s atmospheric, interesting and Poirot is a great and fun character to follow. Towards the end we even get a tease for Death on the Nile, which I would not be against with this team again. It’s beautifully shot and every actor does a great job with what they are given. It is just the lack of attachment to the characters that brings the film down from potential greatness. As a who-dun-it, it’s fun. I liked picking apart the mystery, even though the ending is rather well-known at this point. In the month of November, I’d say you could do a lot worse than watch this film. Give it a go and see if you can find out who the killer is.
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