‘Murder on the Orient Express’ dulls audiences

Andrew Shermoen

Agatha Christie is one of the greatest mystery-writers of all time, but calamity ensues when a ham of a director such as Kenneth Branagh takes the reigns. 

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the world’s best detective. While returning home to London, he accepts his friend Bouc’s (Tom Bateman) offer to ride on the Orient Express. After the train is derailed in the Alps and a body of fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) turns up, Poirot must solve the murder before the train arrives at the station and the killer escapes.

Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” was a faithful adaptation of Christie’s novel, but it was nowhere near as interesting. Branagh captured Poirot’s charmingly awkward brilliance, but by giving the lead character such an absurd amount of focus, the rest of the large, highly talented cast was either underutilized or neglected entirely.

Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer are sadly the most underutilized members of the cast. They barely got a chance to actually stretch their legs in these stinted roles. They delivered what few scenes they had exceptionally well and the film could have benefited from focusing more on these characters.

Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr. and Derek Jacobi, too, were highlights in the supporting cast. The script had a tendency to make characters explain their entire backstory instead of simply allowing the actors to actually do their jobs and act. In the end, this star-studded cast was treated more like various set pieces and plot devices than characters with agency.

Subtly was not Branagh’s style at all in “Murder on the Orient Express.” If he could direct a film comprised of a single, uninterrupted monologue, I’m sure he would. While his overly theatrical flair bogged down the script and the character development of the film, it certainly elevated the film’s production value.

The inner compartment’s of the train were opulently decorated, and each actor’s costuming looked painstakingly designed and put together to ensure not a thread was out of place. This film won’t be on anyone’s short list for Best Picture, but it’s an easy pick for Best Costuming and Best Set Design come awards season. 

In terms of plot, the film did work. “Murder on the Orient Express” is one of Christie’s best novels and the film doesn’t stray too far from it to the point of being bad or incomprehensible. It’s a faithful adaptation, but it was too focused on quirky, uninteresting plot threads and dry monologues and did not spend enough time flushing out its robust cast of characters.

This is not the worst adaptation to date, but it is an aggressively neutral experience for moviegoers.