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“Murder on the Orient Express” Review

The Orient Express breaks down just when the film gets chugging along.

Jack Lynch, Editor-in-Chief

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“Murder on the Orient Express” is an admirable film. While it drags at times, the performances by some of cinema’s greats make up for it.

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot tries to escape from his demanding work, but must use his skills to solve a murder upon the opulent Orient Express train while trapped in an avalanche. The detective is accompanied by British greats Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi, up-and-comers like Daisey Ridley and Josh Gad, American classics like Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe, Spanish star Penélope Cruz, British actress Olivia Colman and even the original Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” Leslie Odom Jr. Amazingly, each and every one delivers a stellar performance, even if most do not receive nearly as much screen time as they deserve.

Branagh in particular is remarkable in his role as Poirot, a feat made doubly impressive as he is also the director. He originally built his career on adaptations of Shakespeare, six in all, as well as adaptations of Frankenstein, Thor and Cinderella. Now he has taken a stab at adapting mystery writer Agatha Christie’s classic in one of his most famous stories (there are 38 Christie novels starring Poirot and 66 total).

The cinematography is stunning in Branagh’s 16th turn in the feature film director’s chair. Exemplary exterior shots of the train as it moves through the Balkan peninsula highlight the beginning of the film as the train leaves Istanbul on track for Italy, France and Britain. When Branagh fits the entire ensemble cast into a single compartment, the camera work is superb as it  follows Poirot weaving his way throughout the cast.

One pleasant surprise in store for viewers is the comedy. The Belgian detective is a comedic force at points, especially near the beginning of the film. His brief and blunt style bring some much needed laughs to the serious and sometimes long-winded story. Though Sherlock Holmes is fiction’s greatest investigator, Poirot could give him a run for his money.

The worst parts of this film are the beginning and the action scenes. The real beginning of the film is a delightful showcase of Poirot’s detective skills in Jerusalem, but once he boards the Orient Express, this train grinds to a halt. Ironically, only when the Express gets stuck in the snow, does the story start picking up some steam. There is one conversation between Branagh and Depp that moves so slowly that I got bored and checked out not once, but twice. The action scenes are few and far between, one at the beginning and one in the middle of the story. The first is adequate but the second is unengaging and disappointing. Though we and Poirot both know who is involved, one character’s face is covered and the entire affair is over in less than a minute.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is an enjoyable ride that veers off course once in awhile. The all-star cast make this film what it is, and this is the first film (not part of an ongoing franchise) in a while to truly deserve a sequel. You will have to pay more attention in this film than say, “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Daddy’s Home 2” both of which are competing with “Murder” at the box office, though that should not dissuade you from seeing it. Take two hours over Thanksgiving break to see Branagh chug along and solve this murder mystery.

 

Where you know them from:

Sir Kenneth Branagh: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”—Gilderoy Lockhart, “The Road to El Dorado”—Miguel (voice), “Thor”—Director, “Hamlet”—Hamlet, “Much Ado About Nothing”—Benedick, “Henry V”—Henry V

Johnny Depp: “Pirates of the Caribbean”—Captain Jack Sparrow, “Alice in Wonderland”—Mad Hatter, “Edward Scissorhands”—Edward Scissorhands, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”—Willy Wonka

Dame Judi Dench: “Skyfall”—M, “Philomena”—Philomena, “Goldeneye”—M, “Hamlet”—Hecuba, “Shakespeare in Love”—Queen Elizabeth

Sir Derek Jacobi: “Gladiator”—Gracchus, “The King’s Speech”—Archbishop Cosmo Lang, “I, Claudius”—Claudius, “Cinderella”—King

Daisy Ridley: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”—Rey, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”— Rey

Penélope Cruz: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”—Angelica, “G-Force”—Juarez, “Vanilla Sky”—Sofia Serrano

Willem Dafoe: “Spider-Man”—Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”—Jopling, “Finding Nemo”—Gill, “Platoon”—Sgt. Elias, “John Wick”—Marcus

Leslie Odom Jr.: “Hamilton: An American Musical”—Vice President Aaron Burr

Josh Gad: “Frozen”—Olaf, “Beauty and the Beast”—LeFou, “The Book of Mormon”—Elder Cunningham

Michelle Pfeiffer: “Batman Returns”—Catwoman/Selina Kyle, “Scarface”—Elvira Hancock, “Dark Shadows”—Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, “Hairspray”—Velma Von Tussle, “The Witches of Eastwick”—Sukie Ridgemont

Olivia Colman: “Broadchurch”—Ellie Miller, “Hot Fuzz”—PC Doris Thatcher, “Locke”—Bethan, “The Lobster”—Hotel Manager

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“Murder on the Orient Express” Review