With such a star-studded ensemble cast, it comes as a great disappointment that the most exciting aspect of “Murder on the Orient Express” is a mustache. Yes, you read that right. A mustache that fills the entire screen.
Adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel of the same name, director Kenneth Branagh takes a stab at the well known tale of revered detective Hercule Poirot solving a murder mystery in which everyone is a suspect.
Branagh’s retelling of the novel is the latest iteration, with past ones including Sydney Lumet’s 1974 film and a television version featuring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.
Branagh not only directs the film but also stars as sleuth Poirot. It quickly becomes apparent that Branagh should have spent less time fussing with Poirot’s mustache and more time behind the camera.
The film opens with the self-professed “greatest detective in the world,” Hercule Poirot, dramatically solving a mystery in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Tired from his efforts, Poirot boards the luxurious Orient Express in Istanbul for a break from crime solving.
Once on the train, a beautifully choreographed tracking shot follows Poirot as he walks through car after car. I imagine that it took quite a few takes to get the shot right as the camera never stops its brisk pace as we see the stars getting situated on the train.
Just as Poirot begins to settle into his cabin and fastens on his custom mustache snood (yes, the mustache is encased during sleep to protect it), one of the passengers is brutally stabbed to death.
To complicate matters, the train gets stuck in a snowdrift after an avalanche. Poirot takes it upon himself to solve the murder and find the killer before the train pulls into the next station.
A highlight of the ensemble cast, Michelle Pfeiffer takes on the brassy widower, Mrs. Hubbard. Pfeiffer perfects the irresistible Mrs. Hubbard and steals every scene she’s in. Other big names include Judi Dench as Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, an aging Russian princess; Olivia Colman, Dench’s lady-in-waiting; Penelope Cruz, a devout missionary; Johnny Depp as the gangster Ratchett, a crooked American businessman; Daisy Ridley as Governess Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot; and Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, Ratchett’s secretary.
There are probably a couple of others that I’m missing, but you wouldn’t even notice most of the stars I just mentioned in the film. It’s not necessarily the ensemble’s fault that “Murder on the Orient Express” is an inert bore, but some could have shown more verve and attempted to display a hint of chemistry between each other.
At times, I wasn’t sure if I was watching “Murder on the Orient Express” or a rerun of “Polar Express.” Part of the charm of the 1974 rendition was the running shots of the train and the actual Hagia Sophia in the background as the train departs.
Instead, the 2017 adaptation relies heavily on CGI special effects and leaves viewers wondering what it’s really like to travel on the Orient Express. Granted, the cinematography is beautiful in large part to the film being shot on 65-millimeter film stock, which provides an opulent charm.
The film’s tepidness and inability to engage audiences render it completely unnecessary (please, enough with the remakes already). This version does add a few modernizing overtures — a more ethnically diverse cast, cognizance of racial and religious issues — but none of which justify a remake.
If you wish to watch an adaptation of the classic tale, stick with the 1974 Sidney Lumet film and watch from the comfort of your home.