There's no denying that Kenneth Branagh has big shoes to fill and a momentous task ahead of him in Murder on the Orient Express. Not only is he producing and directing an adaption of one of Agatha Christie's greatest crime novels but he himself is starring as the renowned Hercule Poirot. An iconic role which has been personified by the likes of Albert Finney and the legendary David Suchet. Branagh has given himself no easy task. With so many comparisons to be made, the spotlight is bright on this new interpretation of the literature classic.
Branagh hasn't cracked under pressure though and with the razor-sharp wit and attention to detail of the famed Poirot himself, he has crafted a faithful rendition of this much-loved murder mystery.
For the uninitiated, Murder on the Orient Express follows one of the many exploits of Agatha Christie's most famous creation, Hercule Poirot. Poirot is a quirky and proper Belgian detective. Considered the best in the world, he travels from place to place at the request of others to solve crimes no one else can. In this film, Poirot, after solving a case in Jerusalem, is looking forward to a holiday. However, Poirot soon receives a telegram requesting his presence in London. With the help of a good friend he has bumped into, Bouc, he boards the Orient Express, which Bouc is the director of, from Istanbul to take him to London. Things don't unfold so simply for Poirot though as a murder on the train and an avalanche that blocks their path means that he must once more investigate a crime so sinister.
The first detail that will catch audience's attention is the all-star cast of Murder on the Orient Express. Branagh has assembled a masterclass of cinema and theatre talent. From veterans of the silver screen in likes of Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Penelope Cruz to theatre stalwarts like Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr, and Josh Gad. One thing that stands out in this cast is theatre and stage experience amongst the group. Branagh, being a Shakespeare enthusiast, has brought together a cast that can tackle the subtleties and nuances of reimaging the 1934 novel. Each cast members excels at using the time they have to add life and flavour to their characters. The calibre of actors and actresses comes through in their voices, delivery and mannerisms. With such an expansive cast each person only has a limited time to establish themselves but they all do so with relative ease.
Presented by Fox Studios, this version of Murder on the Orient Express is a big budget cinema release. With that in mind, it is expected that the film has some of the glitz and spectacle of a typical Hollywood movie. I am happy to report though that this kind of grandiose display is used sparingly within the film. The backdrops, scenery, locations and set design all have the crisp, clean feel you would expect from a big Hollywood release. Other than that though, the rest of the production is well restrained.
The costume design is distinctive, but not over the top. Enough to make each character stand out amongst the others and compliment the actors and setting. The jokes are clever and well-timed, fitting of the Poirot character, and the couple action scenes within the movie aren't inappropriate or excessive. This is a Hollywood remake, that much is obvious, but Branagh has made sure the movie still has the mood and presentation of an older murder mystery classic. With that in mind, the movie does carry some older tropes of the genre. Being faithful to the crime dramas of the past and with a cast full of Shakespearian patrons the movie carries the weight of a high-end stage drama. The dialogue is dramatic and emphasised. The characters have plenty of flair and style. Murder on the Orient Express has all the makings of an old-fashioned who-dun-it which I believe only adds to the distinctive aesthetic.
A strong performance by Michelle Pfeifferr as Caroline Hubbard
This return of a classic is exactly that. A classic. It has been tweaked just enough to grab attention and bring in a new audience but it still has all the charm and character that we remember from the original book, film, and TV series. Murder on the Orient Express fills the shoes it sets out to and is something I believe Agatha Christie herself could be proud of.