I’m ashamed to say this but I came into this film a Murder on the Orient Express virgin. By which I mean, that I had not read Agatha Christie’s iconic 1934 novel or seen Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film. I had no idea who the murderer was.
The film of course gave me the literal answer but philosophically speaking, the crime would have to be pinned on Kenneth Branagh who is on double duty here – as director and as Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh is a much-lauded Shakespeare veteran and the director of big-budget Hollywood fantasies like Thor. Here he takes one of Christie’s best-loved mysteries and constructs an unabashed ode to himself.
Poirot is in almost every frame of the film, which begins with him solving within minutes, a mystery in Jerusalem. Later, he declares: My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world. Through the film, the other characters are gushing over his genius. So after a murder takes place on the famed Orient Express, the train’s manager begs Poirot to solve it saying – think of it as a beach-side puzzle. You are the only one who can bring justice. Another character marveling at Poirot’s powers of deduction says – you are one sharp knife, I’ll give you that. Branagh even orchestrates a scene in which the murdered man, Rachett played by no less than Johnny Depp, tells Poirot – I’ve never sat so close to fame before.
Without hesitation, Branagh thunders and roars and upstages every actor in the frame – this includes Dame Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley. In fact, Branagh’s curiously large moustache makes more of an impression than some of the characters in this film. It looks like a small animal died on his face – when the detective sleeps, the moustache gets its own mask.
The end result is a handsomely produced but inert mystery. I admired the lengthy tracking shots and the beautiful scenery and costumes. It’s also fun to see the massive star-cast introduced – it reminded me of the star-studded song Deewangi in Om Shanti Om – but once these heavy-weights have gathered, Branagh doesn’t give them enough to do. Even the mighty Dench is reduced to a sideshow.
If you like arrogant detectives with superhuman powers of observation, my suggestion is go with Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. This rendition of Poirot is creaky and tedious.