On paper, “Murder on the Orient Express” has everything you could possibly want in a movie – strong director (Kenneth Branagh); insanely talented cast (Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, et al.); and a screenplay crafted by an imaginative writer (Michael Green, “Logan,” “Blade Runner 2049”) based on a novel by an iconic writer (Agatha Christie).
Kenneth Branagh stars as Hercule Poirot in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Photo by Nicola Dove. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)
Unfortunately, not everything translates well from paper to the screen. I mean, let us not forget “Santa with Muscles” and “Surf Ninjas” were also considered viable ideas at some point.
Branagh stars as the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, who, using little more than his keen intellect and some OCD tendencies, solves an unsolvable (and very public) case. Seeking a reprieve from the grind (and the workings of his own mind), Poirot seeks refuge on the Orient Express before taking his next assignment.
That assignment, however, arrives much quicker than expected when the body a fellow passenger is found the next morning riddled with stab wounds.
With the passengers on edge (mostly because of the murder and partially because of an avalanche that halted their trip), a corpse on board, and a murderer on the loose, Poirot – somewhat begrudgingly – takes the case, with eyes on solving it by the time the train reaches its next stop.
Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen and Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Photo by Nicola Dove. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)
But while the Orient Express was eventually able to get back on the tracks, I’m not sure Branagh’s film was ever on them.
The truth of the matters is that the movie is a sloppy mess from the start. There's simply too many strong characters, too many plot lines, and subplots to squeeze into under two hours. I mean, they managed to do it, but it wasn't performed well.
There's virtually zero character development, despite having an incredible cast; the stories of the passengers/suspects are glossed over so quickly to fit them all in that if you blink, you're likely to miss it; and the stories that are fleshed out in greater detail feel somehow rushed and plodding at the same time.
I’m also not sure how a movie that falls short of the two hour mark, and is overflowing with too many characters and stories, manages to be boring, but this one is.
The only real saving grace for this movie is the quality of the cast – even though they were grossly misused, or at the very least underutilized. Honestly, despite my overall boredom throughout this movie, if they'd added an extra 30 minutes to it to allow the cast to shine a little more, it might have been better. Or maybe it'd simply be another 30 minutes of aimless boredom.
Manuel Garcia Rulfo as Biniamino Marquez, Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot in Twetieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Photo by Nicola Dove. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen and Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Photo by Nicola Dove. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)
I imagine if you're a die hard Christie fan, this will be slightly more watchable for you. However, for the rest of us, it's simply another reason to not read the book.
Despite having high hopes for this one (the trailer legitimately had be excited), I fear its ultimate fate is like that of rail travel – suitable for hardcore devotees, but likely to be shunned by the general public.
★1/2 of ★★★★★