Detective Hercule Poirot is once again gracing big screens as he solves, what has been called, “the perfect murder” aboard the Orient Express. Agatha Christie’s novel “Murder on the Orient Express” is considered one of the most famous murder mysteries in fiction. With millions of copies sold and several film and television adaptations preceding it, this remake may seem unnecessary to those who have not seen the film. Since a majority of the audience will be walking into the theater already knowing “who done it,” why make a movie about a murder that has already been solved for so many? Because a story this rich has a lot more to offer. Kenneth Branagh’s new film adaptation of “Murder” is more concerned with the journey than the destination, which benefits both new and returning passengers. Poirot solves mysteries with the audience, not for them. He carefully unwraps the crime like a delicious but delicate chocolate. And while the pacing is not always perfect, it does a great job showcasing and exploring its characters.
Within the first minutes of the film, “Murder” is able to successfully emerge its audience in the mist of crime with no connection to its title. It is used to establish a trust and understanding between the audience and their hero, Detective Poirot. Kenneth Branagh, who plays Poirot, is very engaging in the role. Here he exhibits a great sense of humor. It is a delight to see an actor with such dramatic merit succeed in taking on a part that demands such silliness. Poirot is a wonder to behold and makes what some would find unbelievable convincing. An actor such as Branagh has the skills to pull it off. His Shakespearean training is put to good use here as he brings the best of both worlds: Branagh’s Poirot is credible as a serious detective with an incredible mind even as he charismatically galivants about with a cartoonish mustache and a distinctive but comical accent. Furthermore, it is impressive that Branagh was able to execute both directing this lavish capper and playing a role that requires such focus to play. And instead of using the film as a vehicle to solely promote himself, Branagh makes Poirot the glue of the entire puzzle.
The rest of the cast would seem like an embarrassment of riches if not for the fact that each of them are at the top of their game. If anything, this film is at least a must see for its stars: Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. Most of these stars can and have carried a film on their own but this train ride is no battle of the egos. First and foremost, “Murder” is an ensemble piece. Its detective consumes the screen with his personality because the audience indirectly sees these characters though Poirot’s observant eyes; therefore, as he evaluates each suspect, the actors must play multiple versions of their characters as the investigation is developed. With the multiple versions the actors play, no one is who they seem, keeping mystery aspect intact. This ensemble is successful in going head to head with Branagh. Even if their screen time is limited, they are memorable.
Equally as impressive as its cast is “Murder’s” aesthetics. This new film notably takes advantage of modern film technologies to not just transport but immerse the audience to its foreign destinations. Its cinematography, set design and costumes are all visual achievements. More than breathtaking, they feel authentic. Perhaps Branagh channeled Poirot’s attention and adoration for detail while in the director’s chair. Because of this, “Murder on the Orient Express” is well worth the ride, even if you have ridden this train on the page or screen before.