Review by C.J. Bunce

Many have asked:  Why make another Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?  You could just as easily ask: Why adapt another Shakespeare play?  Or Why make another Sherlock Holmes series?  When your story is great, and becomes as classic as Agatha Christie’s famous, timeless 1934 novel, it’s sort of the point of cinema, isn’t it?  From an actor standpoint, being in one of the film versions of Murder on the Orient Express, and portraying such iconic roles, is something like being cast as King Lear.  And who better than Kenneth Branagh to inject his own vision of the story into a new snapshot of acting greats for a new era of audience members?  Of Branagh’s twenty directorial pursuits, you must go back to the early era of Dead Again and Peter’s Friends to find Branagh not serving as puppetmaster of someone else’s well-known world, whether it’s Shakespeare in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (and the list goes on), or adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marvel Comics’ Thor, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Branagh is the king of directing adaptations and remakes.  Add Murder on the Orient Express to that list, a faithful adaptation of the book, stylishly filmed with lavish, sweeping sets and landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh’s choice cameraman on four of his past films.

The year’s casting award goes to Lucy Bevan for bring filmgoers back to the age of the all-star cast, where you’d look to 1970s disaster movies (Airport ’76, Towering Inferno, Earthquake) or the odd comedy (think It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) for a pantheon of stars like that found in Orient Express.  Branagh as Hercule Poirot sports that classic era moustache with confidence (Christie herself called Poirot’s moustache “magnificent” and “immense”) and he adds his own quirks and humor to Christie’s legendary greatest detective, providing a new twist on the Holmes/Monk/House, M.D. frustrated genius detective archetype.  So many of the cast members appear every bit like Golden Age film stars here, including Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Leslie Odom, Jr., with a particularly engaging performance by Tom Bateman as Poirot’s friend Bouc, in what will no doubt be seen as a great breakout role for the actor.

The film will be best for those unfamiliar with the story.  A famous detective receives a message requiring him to squeeze onto a full train at the last minute with a little more than a dozen passengers aboard.  When one passenger who fears for his life and requests assistance from the detective winds up dead in a brutal, bloody murder, the whodunit begins.  Once a snowy avalanche blocks the path of the train, the game is afoot as the delay provides enough time for Detective Poirot to begin interviewing the passengers.  The mystery is laid out with several clues, including just enough to allow the viewer to figure out who killed the victim if he/she is paying close attention.  And Branagh stages the investigation like a game of Clue/Cluedo–including overhead angles that at times make the viewer feel like Murder on the Orient Express is indeed a virtual reality version of the board game.  We know the murder weapons and the location, but who is responsible for the death and why?

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