Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Review by: Belle McIntyre
As a fan of Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie, I was totally looking forward to this new iteration of the iconic detective, the glamorous and luxurious train full of eccentric characters, traveling through exotic locations, who all become part of a murder mystery, with a twisty plot which is gradually unwound by the cerebral Poirot. To be fair, all of those elements are, indeed, in place. It is, after all, escapist fare which asks little of an audience but to go along for the ride with clever, witty dialogue, improbable plotting, and fantastic production values. Yet there is something missing.
The pleasures of any filmed version of an Agatha Christie mystery are chiefly lavish visuals, including exaggerated, stylishly-costumed and coiffed characters of the period (1930’s), impossibly idiosyncratic individuals who are very often not who they appear to be, as well as the inevitable bizarre murder mystery at the center. Christie’s characters often have names which are either a tip-off or an ironic reference to their roles. We have Princess Dragomiroff (Judy Dench), an imperious dragon lady, Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi), an obsequious valet, Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), a thuggish bigot, Ratchett (Johnny Depp), a menacingly sinister criminal, Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom) a self-important doctor, and Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) as a slinky, wealthy husband hunter (the antithesis of the most famous Mrs. Hubbard who lived in a shoe).
Alas, anyone familiar with the fastidiously fussy portrayals of Poirot in either Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film of the same name or the television version by David Suchet will be let down or put off by Kenneth Branagh’s more vulnerable and less rigorous characterization. The Poirot that I know would never sport such a lavish meandering mustache. My Poirot is a master of maximum control and containment.
I think I have solved the mystery at the heart of this version of the Christie classic. It is the earlier versions. At the risk of seeming hidebound, I feel the same way about contemporary versions of Sherlock Holmes (especially by Benedict Cumberbach). The philosophizing of Poirot at the end feels false to the character. The whole film takes itself too seriously. I fear it has forgotten to put the tongue in the cheek.