To be honest, I was quite apprehensive about going to see Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous novel. Part of this apprehension came from the posters: based on his prominent position, I was led to believe that Johnny Depp was playing Hercule Poirot. Don’t get me wrong, Depp has some wonderful performances under his belt, but given that the last time he played a moustachioed character with a funny accent was 2015’s Mortdecai… well, if you’ve seen it, you’ll understand.
So you can imagine the pleasantness of my surprise when I realised that Kenneth Branagh was portraying everyone’s favourite Belgian detective! Branagh’s impersonation of David Suchet is uncanny: if I closed my eyes, it was almost as if I was back in my parents’ house while my mother watched Agatha Christie TV adaptations. Crucially, like Suchet, he’s able to bring the character’s eccentricities to the fore without making him seem like a cartoon. The facial hair was a bit much though — it looked as if Poirot’s moustache was growing a moustache of its own.
The script changes the ethnicities of several characters to add in some racial tensions, giving the source material an update with more modern sensibilities, but otherwise it maintains the same strokes as its source material. For those unfamiliar, Poirot tries to take a break from the various unsavoury types he rubs noses with as part of his line of work as the world’s greatest living detective. Unfortunately, his chosen mode of transport becomes the site of a murder, and with each of his fellow passengers seemingly having something to hide, it will be a tough case to crack.
The exterior sequences of the titular train can be a bit Polar Express at times, but overall the film is shot in a rather pleasing manner. Overhead shots box Poirot into the train compartments as the case begins to close in around him, while the handful of flashback sequences are approached with a certain noir-ish style. Overall, I would’ve appreciated a bit more subtlety — nearly every aspect of the film had an often unnecessary injection of pathos. On the flipside, the script could be pretty sharp when it came to the humour, my personal particular highlight is when Poirot struggles with the English word for “fudge.”
Murder on the Orient Express is like a train; it gets you from point A to point B with little fuss. It didn’t bowl me over, but I really rather enjoyed it. It will be a great one to watch at Christmas with the family. I’d like to see Branagh take on more mysteries as Poirot, and based on the packed screening I attended, he’ll definitely get that chance.