Murder on the Orient Express

  • 25 Nov - 01 Dec, 2017
  • Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
  • Reviews

Kenneth Branagh is a fine actor and a good director, who brings a theatrical opulence and grace, even to a commercial feature like Thor. The ambience of his films is a result of a career filled with Shakespeare adaptations, in both the big screen and theatre (amongst a few other things).

When you have Branagh doing an Agatha Christie’s story – and one as famous as Murder on the Orient Express (MOTOE) – the connection simply makes sense. However, if life has taught any rational adult anything, it’s that reality is vastly different from expectations. That’s exactly what MOTOE is all about.

In the adaptation, Branagh directs and also plays the lead – the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Poirot is a recurrent lead detective in Christie’s mystery works from 1920 till her latest published works in 1975. In the books, Poirot is a Sherlock Holmes-level genius detective who goes around the globe solving the most outlandish crimes.

The film starts with a case which serves as an introduction to those who don’t know who Poirot and his quirks are. In 1934 Jerusalem, in the morning and after some deliberations on his symmetrically sized breakfast eggs (the aforementioned quirks we talked about), Poirot walks to the front of the Wailing Wall and solves a case concerning a Rabbi, a Priest and an Imam in a typical Agatha Christie fashion. With all suspects in one location, the evidence is unfolded one by one, and the criminal is revealed.

After that opening, Poirot is called back to England for a case and the fastest way to get there is the Orient Express. The Orient Express is a luxury train, which takes her passengers from Istanbul to Calais in three days. Poirot has his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, a much younger and different Bouc) with him for the trip, who is also the director of the train service.

The rest are a group of mix bag film stars playing idiosyncratic characters. They consist of: a shady art dealer (a very dull Johnny Depp), his nervous secretory (Josh Gad) and his valet (Derek Jacobi), an attractive older woman looking for a new husband (Michelle Pfeiffer), a Russian Princess (Judi Dench), her maid (Olivia Colman), an angry Count and his young wife (Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton), a Governess (Daisy Ridley), a doctor, obviously smitten with the Governess (played by Leslie Odom Jr.), a missionary nurse (Penélope Cruz), a Professor (Willem Dafoe) and a couple more. One of them gets murdered, as the title suggests, and Poirot has to get to the bottom of it before getting to the stop. What he has to go on is a body, a train full of suspects and a whole lot of lies.

Branagh’s Poirot is seemingly inflicted with OCD, and tries to balance his life while solving crime as much as possible. With a well-groomed mustache that has a persona of its own, Poirot laughs in-between his reading of The Tale of Two Cities and straightens as many of the people’s ties as he can (yes, the ties that people wear). The rest of the cast and characters seem invisible in front of Poirot, with only one or two shining moments for Pfeiffer, Cruz and Ridley.

While Branagh is interesting as Poirot, he isn’t that successful in the directorial seat. Visually, there are quite a few awkward cinematography decisions (the film is lensed by Haris Zambarloukos) – one of which includes the annoying, floating, over-the-head shots above the compartment that completely misses the emotional beat of the scenes, or the long track shot of Poirot getting on board the Orient Express that simply looks busy and inelegant.

Having read the book without seeing the much loved 1975’s Sidney Lumet version, I can’t say much on how it stands against the latter. Compared to the book, this MOTOE is a bleak adaptation. Written by Michael Green, the plot reveals are choppy and rushed thoughtlessly in comparison.

MOTOE gets by with being just okay, with a beautiful production design by Jim Clay. Overall, it’s a ho-hum experience without any oomph. – FJ •


The movie gets by with being just okay because of beautiful production design. Overall, it’s a ho-hum experience without any oomph.