Film review: Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded, hollow take on Agatha Christie’s classic
The film adaptation of the classic murder-mystery is engaging enough, but somehow unsatisfying, with much of the focus on Poirot, the glitzy costumes, luxurious backdrop and overused CGI
“My name is Hercule Poirot, and I’m probably the greatest detective in the world,” announces Kenneth Branagh’s Belgian sleuth in this flashy take on Agatha Christie’s most famous murder-mystery.
As this suggests, the latest version of the author’s 1934 novel is all about Poirot. From the moment we see him in Jerusalem, fussing over his boiled eggs, it becomes clear that director Branagh is making the Belgian the star of the show.
Every bit as glitzy as Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film with Albert Finney, Sean Connery and Lauren Bacall, Branagh’s take is equally A-list. After introducing the fastidious Poirot (correctly sporting a fabulous moustache), the action turns to Istanbul, where the great and the good board the world’s most fabulous train.
Branagh knows it, too, sweeping the camera along the platform in a brilliant shot that introduces all the characters. Among them are a missionary (Penelope Cruz), a Russian countess (Judi Dench), a psychiatrist (Willem Dafoe), a shady art dealer (Johnny Depp) and his assistants (Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi), and a widow (Michelle Pfeiffer).
With the train stranded in the Alps after an avalanche, a murder happens – Depp’s thuggish Samuel Ratchett is stabbed in his bunk. With the murderer unquestionably still on the train, the great Poirot is left to uncover the culprit.
Film review: The Snowman – Michael Fassbender plays detective in suspense-free take on Jo Nesbo’s serial-killer novel
Unfortunately, the tension of the Christie novel, adapted here by Alien: Covenant ’s Michael Green, never really emerges in a film that seems dazzled by the refined costumes, the train’s luxury trappings and far too much CGI – from Istanbul to the snowy mountains.
What’s more, despite the first-class cast, the suspects are all left in Poirot’s shadow; Depp aside, nobody ever really has time to blossom.
Even amid this rather superficial and strangely hollow take on one of the world’s classic whodunits, Christie’s mystery still sucks you in. But it leaves you unsatisfied, in a way you can’t quite place. Perhaps the great Poirot should solve that mystery instead.
Murder on the Orient Express opens on November 30
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook