In what Wikipedia informs me is the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the 2017 incarnation passes the OCD-baton to Kenneth Branagh to take a turn as arguably history’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot. Hot off the heels of an attempted theft in Jerusalem, Poirot’s holiday plans get derailed as the train he is on gets, well, derailed. Our protagonist becomes embroiled in ‘a little beach side puzzle’ when a passenger perishes suspiciously during the snowstorm, and we embark down a rabbit hole of intrigue .
Murder on the Orient Express as a story may be one of the best known murder mysteries of all time, which does somewhat ruin the ‘mystery’ aspect for anyone who hasn’t been dwelling in a cave. It’s a classic ‘whodunit’, this reboot featuring an stellar ensemble cast including Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Coleman. The puzzle increases in complexity as we try to delve into each character and determine what could make a celebrated doctor, a decorated professor, or a beloved royal, commit murder.
Unfortunately, we only ‘delve’ as far into these characters as one ‘delves’ into a paddling pool. The talented Miss Ridley (that’s a good one, I’ll be using that again) appears to have left all of her star quality on Jakku, and her Miss Debenham is no more than a pale Keira Knightley impersonation. Depp as the tortured wheeler dealer Ratchett really phones in a performance that will really only go down in the history books as ‘having happened’. The only standout is Branagh’s Poirot, a charming and likeable adaptation who encapsulates the peculiarities of the famous hero with aplomb.
Deception is around every corner in this film, but I’m mostly left feeling deceived by the fact that the rest of the cast are simply relegated to nothing more than a beautiful looking part of a beautiful set. The film suffers from the same malady as 2013’s The Great Gatsby, relying on a lavish, opulent and expressly detailed set that isn’t quite enough to hold your attention.
From such a strong foundation of acting talent and the Poirot legacy, the resulting chaos is aberrant, jumpy, hard to follow. The wild goose chase might well emulate a real murder case, but it doesn’t make for a very coherent narrative. Characters and clues seemingly appear out of nowhere, and disappear just as quickly.
The big reveal gives us the murderer, and the motive, but I was still left wanting more of a ‘whydunit’, with so many unanswered questions. The film’s swan song sees Poirot wrestling with humanity and his inability to process anything other than the dichotomy of man, which comes across as a little tired and hollow.
Another unfortunate example of storytelling being left in the car seat, of what turned out to be a great looking but very hot and uncomfortable car. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an old Chevrolet, and I won’t be trying to hitch another ride.
Three stars. Case closed.
Natalie Lines – On The Town & Theatre Now