Murder on the Orient Express Review: Kenneth Branagh Achieves Just The Right Balance

This review contains spoilers for the 2017 adaption of Murder on the Orient Express
A group of strangers on a train, a dead body, an iconic detective, and a nearly unsolvable crime are the linchpins of Murder on the Orient Express, one of the most famous mystery novels of the 20thcentury. Those qualities of the renowned Agatha Christie story are all on display in the novel’s most recent film adaptation. A solid movie that manages to balance the collective talent of an all-star cast, Murder on the Orient Express is an enjoyable reintroduction of an old character and tale.
Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also played the probable “most famous detective in the world,” Hercule Poirot. Released in November, the movie succeeds in relaying the 1934 novel to the big screen by bringing an ensemble feel to a cast of elite names. Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Olivia Coleman were all a part of the movie.
What Is The Style Of The Film?
The film is not the thriller that we can usually expect when watching a murder mystery unfold in theaters. It is a solidly-orchestrated effort by a large cast that was conducted by Branagh. Like many Christie works, the joy is more in finding out who committed the well-hidden crime than any psychological rush. There is never an adrenalized moment in the film, but Murder on the Orient Express does maintain an atmosphere of constant curiosity.
The novel naturally lends itself to the type of casting that this version attempted. Like Poirot’s balance-seeking approach to crime solving, Branagh maintained a relatively equal management of screen time. None of the actors dominated the screen too much and each big name meshed with their character.
What Cast Members Stood Out?
Despite only being present in the first half of the film, Depp was onscreen long enough to relay one of the greatest performances of the cast. Depp nailed his portrayal of mobster-on-the-run Samuel Ratchett. The character is instantly unlikeable, even if you do not know why for quite some time. Depp does not make his character into an exaggerated caricature of an Italian mafioso. Instead he appears as a generic pre-World War II American thug and that is a refreshing break from what could have been.
Michelle Pfeiffer in Murder On The Orient Express
Michelle Pfeiffer reigned as a bubbly American socialite. She gradually evolves into a complex character that has more layers than the audience is initially led to believe. Even among a cast of big names, Pfeiffer delivered one of the outstanding performances in Murder On The Orient Express.
 
Branagh is the center of the film. He quickly introduced the essence of Hercule Poirot in the movie’s opening sequence. His character is an early Adrian Monk, an obsessive-compulsive detective who has an aversion to things that are out of place. Poirot prompts men to straighten their ties and steps in a pile of manure with both feet just for the sake of symmetry. His character does not display the brash, oversized ego that so many of Branagh’s Shakespearean heroes usually unleash. Instead, the detective carries himself with a more subdued confidence.
The remainder of the cast made smaller contributions to the story and their screen time was dispensed evenly. It is almost a shame to relegate actors like Dench, Gad, Defoe, Coleman, and Jacobi to less domineering roles, but all played their parts well.

 

Kenneth Branagh In Murder On The Orient Express
Branagh’s greatest accomplishment in Murder on the Orient Express is that he succeeded in upholding the most important aspect of a Christie novel: the ending. The director masked the author’s famous twist and did not tip his hand too early. He also prevented the mega-cast from becoming a burden to the movie and Christie’s story remained the true star of the film.

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