2017 in Cinema:
Murder on the Orient Express, 2017
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman
After Hercule Poirot’s (Kenneth Branagh, Dunkirk) plan for a few weeks getaway are disrupted by a case needing his attention, he finds himself on board the legendary Orient Express, where, after being stranded due to an avalanche, a passenger is murdered and Poirot takes up the case. With an assortment of suspects Poirot interviews them all and tries to find the hidden clues to catch the killer.
I love a good who-done-it detection film; I was bitterly disappointed in The Snowman as the detection side of it (of which the trailer presented it as) was very poor, however here there is an assortment of characters and constant clues coming forward to keep you intrigued and thinking throughout. And, if that wasn’t enough, the film is brilliantly acted and extremely well presented. I’ve talked before about how it’s tricky for a film to successfully utilise a small or isolated location (47 Meters Down had an interesting location but it turned out to be one of the film’s downfalls), but this film, primarily set aboard a stationary train, manages to use it brilliantly. There are some gorgeous shots from overhead or following through the carriages that capture the train, the passengers and the fact they are so isolated.
And, have you seen that cast? There’s no way this film isn’t well acted. It’s one Academy Award winner after another, and they all bring a decent performance. Especially Branagh as Poirot, I really enjoyed his performance, he really brought the character to life. However, my liking of Poirot’s character brought on one of my criticisms about this film. Every other character. One thing I really liked was a combination of both of the positives I’ve addressed: on more than one occasion we follow Poirot as he’s addressing every character as he’s walking, and in another he’s walking alongside the train, and in each scene the other characters are around the train and their facial expressions really capture the scenes. From worry to interest, it’s these subtle little moments which add to the overall performances Willem Dafoe (What Happened to Monday), Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul), Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and co.
Now, don’t get me wrong the actors play them well, and they are all pretty fun; some are likeable, most are detestable, but they don’t get explored enough throughout the film for my liking. AT the point where it seemed the film had given all clues I tried to find a character I loved and/or hated to place the guilt on them, but I didn’t have this connection with anyone, and in some of the detection novels/films I’ve read/seen there’s always a couple of red herrings who I detest, or some unfortunate character who I really enjoy, but in this film it never came. It was Poirot interviewing them, a small brief exchange of words between one and another, and then back to Poirot. So while it made Poirot out brilliantly, it seemed to come at the expense of a little more development in others.
And, the biggest moment in a detection film/novel is its reveal, and I was a bit disappointed with Murder on the Orient Express’s reveal. I’m not going to spoil it, but I never felt the satisfaction of a clever reveal because it seemed quite lacklustre and seemed to last a while in Poirot’s explanation. So while I came away after watching a really good film but its ending tampered with it somewhat. It was also quite disappointing because at the start of the film they showed us what could have happened: we are introduced to Poirot as he is dealing with a case to spot a thief among three suspects. Poirot soon deduces that it was the security guard as the thief because his solid shoes matched the scratches on the painting hanging below what was stolen; this is the brilliant detail I expect in detective fictions and with them telling us at the start Poirot can spot these things I was expecting this to continue into the Orient Express’s murder, but all the clues were major parts of the film and there was nothing really hiding (except some character details, which, I suppose, helped solve the case) in the background that lead to the reveal.
Murder on the Orient Express was a very fine film, and a very entertaining film. It’s got a cast of top talent and they each bring a good performance, but, unfortunately, not many characters are explored enough and the reveal lacks the cleverness that I’ve come to expect in detection films.
Plot: * * * *
Acting: * * * *
Writing: * * *
Presentation: * * * * *
Overall Rating: * * * *