Murder on the Orient Express
The word “sheer” is missing from the beginning of the title. Like a dusty and long-locked display room in Madame Tussauds, this movie showcases an allstar cast in period costume, each of whom must suppress his or her star quality in the cause of being part of an all-star cast. It is a new version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 detective mystery, all about a grisly killing on board a train that is marooned in snow. Kenneth Branagh, pictured, directs and plays the legendary Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot with an unfeasibly large ’tache, accessorised with a demi-goatee beneath the lower lip and a pepper-and-salt colouring overall.
The film’s old-fashioned luxury stylings pay homage to Sidney Lumet’s own A-listercrammed version from 1974 and the film seems to be testing the waters for a lucrative new Bondstyle franchise, the next caper being Death on the Nile. This Murder on the Orient Express gives the story a slightly more modern perspective; some of the races are changed and the era’s attitudes challenged, although there is a smug gag about a cheery prostitute at the beginning that could come straight from the seedy-sophisticate 70s.
Poirot boards the renowned Orient Express in Istanbul, heading for Calais. Joining him are the cantankerous White Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman); demure governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), who may have some connection with Dr Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr); sinister German academic Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe); a mousily religious Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz); manhunting American widow Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer); saturnine Russian dancer Count Andrenyi (real-life ballet star Sergei Polunin) and his troubled wife, Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton); and genial businessman Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). There is also a crooked American art dealer, Ratchett (Johnny Depp), accompanied by his butler, Masterman (Derek Jacobi), and private secretary, Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad). One of these people is found murdered – subject to a frenzied stabbing.
What a mouthwatering cast it looks. And yet, of all these characters, only Ratchett is given anything like the necessary space to live and breathe.
When the crime is announced, the narrative clockwork is assumed to have been set in motion. Yet something about the story itself goes dead at that moment, reviving only with the big reveal at the end, for which Poirot assembles the suspects outside, all seated at some sort of lastsupper trestle table. Carrying that thing around on the train must have been a pain. This film never gets up a head of steam.