Murder mysteries are far and few between this year so Murder on the Orient Express should get a lot of attention at theaters this weekend. However, as with all Agatha Christie books, once you find out the ending it’s hard to forget. So unless you have not seen the original movie that was made in 1974 or read the book, you have a lot of fun in store for you.
The film opens with Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) solving a case and then getting offered another by the owner of the exclusive plush train the Orient Express. Leaving on the next day from Istanbul the famous mastermind heads to his next stop. Along the way he meets the travelers in a section of the train that includes the sleepers and the dining room.
There we find Pilar Estravados a missionary (Penelope Cruz), maid Gerhard Hardman a professor (Willem Dafoe), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), Edward Ratchett a gangster (Johnny Depp), Hector MacQueen assistant to Ratchett (Josh Gad), Edward Henry Masterman a butler (Derek Jacobi), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr), Caroline Hubbard a widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Pierre Michel the conductor (Marwan Kenzari), Hildegarde Schmidt a maid (Olivia Colman), Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin), Bouc the owner of the train (Tom Bateman), and the Countess Elena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton).
When Rachett turns up dead, the passengers are shocked, but Poirot knows he must jump into action. He starts looking for the clues that will lead him to the killer. Everyone’s a suspect and as he works on interviews to eliminate the innocent, he finds the puzzle has several missing pieces.
Director Kenneth Branagh noted for winning films like 2014’s Cinderella and Thor in 2011, takes on the huge project filled with suspense and charm. He knows how to handle a star studded cast and puts them to work establishing the many characters that share the screen. Being one of the characters himself, makes it even more of a task, but he handles the chaotic mystery with ease hiding the secrets until the final scene.
Johnny Depp makes an appearance as the gangster Edward Ratchett and his make-up includes some ominous scars on his face. He plays the role with the intensity of Inspector Abberline in the movie From Hell. That said, because of his past as a comical character, you almost want him to break out with a comedic remark. Thank goodness he’s only in the film about fifteen minutes.
Again the foot drops with Josh Gad as Ratchett’s assistant who is suspect to the crime only because he’s traveling with the gangster. At first Hector plays it serious, but as the film goes on his character looks a bit cartoonish as opposed the other players in the cast. His role is quite short also, but so is everyone else except Kenneth Branagh’s as Piorot.
Branagh makes a good detective, especially this one who has a flair for figuring out the killer. He plays Piorot with confidence and yet a little whimsy as he questions the passengers on the train. He brings each to the edge before finding out the character’s not the one who committed the crime.
The special effects are very good as is the make-up, functional sets and scenic locations (especially Istanbul). The avalanche that stops the train comes out of nowhere and looks very real. The trestle on which the train gets derailed has an ominous feel and the dining car, births and 2nd class coach give a nice playground on which to perform the roles.
Murder on the Orient Express has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for violence and thematic elements.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good film, but only if you do not know the ending. (3.5 out of 5)
Additional Film Information
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, Tom Bateman,
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
From a book by: Agatha Christie
Genre: Drama, Crime
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox