Considered as one of Agatha Christie’s most timeless murder mysteries, and by far one of the writer’s most cherished whodunnits, Murder On The Orient Express has seen several on-screen adaptations throughout the years, but none were as memorable as Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation, which although not without fault, remains as memorable in our collective conscienceless as the book itself.
Sadly for fans of Christie, actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s latest adaptation of this much loved book, leaves a lot to be desired, especially compared with the playful exuberance of Lumet’s own offering.
An extraordinarily moustachioed Kenneth Branagh heads up an all-star international cast as infamous detective Hercule Poirot. Having been called back to London from Jerusalem on an urgent police matter, Poirot finds himself on the lavish Orient Express on a journey which will take him across the Middle-East and back to Europe in 3 days.
After the shocking murder of a louche businessman-cum-art dealer named Edward Ratchett, played rather convincingly by Johnny Depp, the detective must use his astute instincts to uncover the culprit, and this being Christie, everyone on the ubiquitous Orient Express is guilty until proven otherwise.
Offering up an array of suspects in the shape of the cream of the current acting crop, Branagh does a decent enough job in sticking to the original source material, but on the whole the film is left severely lacking in the fun stakes and suffers greatly as a result.
From the brilliant Josh Gad as the dead man’s heavy-drinking assistant, to Star Wars star Daisy Ridley as a young governess, the cast do their very best considering how little they’re given to work with, but sadly the story never truly lives up to its original premise and we are ultimately left wondering why is this not working how it should.
Judy Dench is her usual best as the eternally grumpy Russian Princess Dragomiroff, while Olivia Coleman put in a commendable turn as Hildegarde Schmidt, the princess’s long suffering assistant. Michelle Pfeiffer is genuinely impressive as American widow Mrs Hubbar, while Willem Dafoe is sadly underused in his “blink and you’ll miss it” turn as German academic Gerhard Hardman.
On the whole Murder On The Orient Express is a grand production which looks as lavish as its historic setting demands, but one cannot help but feel a little cheated by its inability to ignite any sense of urgency, fun or even - for that matter - intrigue .
Branagh is more than adequate in the Poirot role, give or take one or two mispronounced French words, as is Leslie Odom Jr who is a true revelation in the Dr. Arbuthnot role. With a screenplay which fails to grab its audiences from the get go, and a lengthy and meandering narrative, the film misses a real chance by failing to add some much playfulness to the proceedings, making the whole thing into a rather forgettable affair.