There is much to love in this new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The scenery is beautiful, the camera work is clever and the suspects are divine. The story follows Christie’s mustached detective, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), in what could be the start of a new franchise. In this adventure, Poirot gets caught up in a murder investigation while traveling aboard a very fancy European train in the middle of winter. As you can imagine, everyone on this train is a suspect and Poirot must figure out who the killer is before they strike again. Those along for the ride include:
- Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp): Edward is an art dealer who is new to the business, but it becomes clear early on that he is more of a small-time gangster who is being threatened by someone on the train and asks Poirot for help.
- Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad): Hector is Ratchett’s secretary who is also a trained lawyer, fluent in a number of languages and is very smart. Taking the job is beneath his abilities.
- Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi): Ratchett is also traveling with his trusted butler who has developed a bit of an attitude while on board the train.
- Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer): Caroline is a glamorous widow and is accused of husband-hunting while traveling abroad.
- Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz): Pilar is a dowdy missionary with a past.
- Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe): Professor Hardman rubs people the wrong way with his strong political views and his own opinions.
- Countess Andreny (Lucy Boynton): The countess and her husband, Count Andrenyi, are both ballet dancers. While on this trip, she is rarely seen by the others.
- Count Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin): The Count is very protective of his wife and goes to great lengths to hide her secret.
- Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Judi Dench): Natalia is a princess in more ways than one. It is clear that nobody has ever told her “no” before. The Russian royalty is appauled by her surroundings and those around her.
- Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman): Hildegarde is the princess’ longsuffering maid and groomer of the princess’ pooches.
- Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley): Mary is a governess with a sweet personality unless someone critizes who she loves.
- Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom, Jr.): The good doctor is also a former soldier.
- Bouc (Tom Bateman): Bouc is a good friend of Poirot’s – sort of. The two aren’t anything alike and yet they have a fondness for each other. Here, he is the director of business for the Orient Express.
- Pierre Michel (Marwan Kenzari): Pierre is the train conductor who surprisingly is also a suspect.
- Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo): Not a character in the original story, but one with his own secret.
I appreciate Kenneth Branagh as an actor and a director. In this movie, he does both. And serves as a producer. And wrote the lyrics of a song that is played during the movie’s credits. And the movie makes it clear that it is indeed “A Kenneth Branagh Film.” In short, his movie feels somewhat self-indulgent. Don’t get me wrong. He makes a fantastic Poirot, but it would have been nice if he allowed the great cast of characters a bit more screen time. Poirot is in nearly every scene while the others pop in and out. Some are barely seen at all and by the end of the film, it becomes evident that we don’t know them at all. The other disappointment I had with the film is that while it starts out with a quick pace and snappy dialogue, it doesn’t keep it. By the time the train gets stuck in the snow, so does the story and by the end, it slows to a crawl. Some moments are actually quite dull which is shame as it really should have been a riveting production from beginning to end. Still, there is something refreshing to see a new movie that has the sensibilities of another time and I can’t wait until the next one.
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