‘Murder on The Orient Express’ is Only Barely Held Together By Its Star Power
On paper, Murder on The Orient Express was supposed to be a much better film. After all, when you’ve got an all-star cast of talents taking on a classic murder-mystery, expectations are naturally high. But despite having Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Daisey Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, and Penelope Cruz among the passengers aboard—what a list of names—this adaptation by Kenneth Branagh (who also directed 2011’s Thor and 2015’s Cinderella) of the acclaimed detective novel by Agatha Christie falls short of its expectations, mainly for its inability to thread all its subplots into a cohesive, continuous, and compelling whole.
The story should be familiar to anyone who’s read the book or seen the 1974 film of the same name: While aboard the Orient Express, ace detective Hercule Poirot must investigate a murder that took place on the train. To arrive at a conviction, Poirot must interview each of his co-passengers—the only people within the train’s corners—and weave through their lies.
Despite its age and all the movie adaptations of Murder on The Orient Express since it was first published in 1934, the story still seems like a good source material for a 2017 movie. You get the sense that if it were handled more capably, it certainly could have been a refreshing, old-school whodunit, worthy of its stars and the audiences who will come to see them.
But because of the film’s pedantic and unnatural dialogue (which seems much better-suited to a stage play), its inconsistent pace (it both lingers and rushes into its story at different parts, and gets lost in its subplots), and its overdependence on exposition, it ultimately fails to live up to its potential.
That being said, audiences who are really just watching to see the stars will not be disappointed. Despite a distracting mustache and a bad accent, Branagh renders a fairly potent performance as the main character of his own film. Depp, Dench, and all the rest are as entertaining to watch as you would expect, even as some of them don’t get a big enough share of the movie’s 114-minute runtime.
The film is also about as visually delightful as its promotional materials suggest: Murder on The Orient Express is a well-styled and well-designed production that does manage to hold your gaze a few times. The only gripes that one might have about the film’s visuals are a few instances of bad CGI, and that much more could have been done to create much-needed suspense with the train’s tight quarters. Apart from these, it’s a pretty film.
Taken as a whole, Murder on The Orient Express is a great story that, in this case, suffers from a storytelling problem. It’s worth watching, if only for the spectacle and the stars, but ultimately, it’s difficult to imagine that it will be remembered for anything more than its stellar cast.