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Murder on the Orient Express (2017) directed by Kenneth Branagh

A legendary detective faces a challenge

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery features Kenneth Branagh (who also directed and co-produced) as the Belgian genius detective Hercule Poirot. On the way home from solving a mystery in Jerusalem he boards the Orient Express at Istanbul, accompanied by a motley collection of fellow passengers.

During the first lunch on their lengthy journey he is approached by a hoodlum art dealer named Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who tells him that his life is under threat. He tries to press Poirot to use his deductive skills via the use of both money and coercion with a gun. The staunchly moralistic detective, however, steadfastly refuses.

The following morning the train is partially derailed by an avalanche, thus putting a temporary stop to everyone’s journey. While most of the passengers are assembled in the dining car Ratchett is unaccounted for. Poirot heads towards his cabin and finds his butler, Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi) attempting to deliver breakfast to his room. Ratchett repeatedly fails to respond, thus prompting the detective to burst open the door to his cabin. He has been murdered via multiple stab wounds. Poirot spends the rest of the film using his brilliant deductive skills in his attempts to solve the murder.

Watch a trailer:

A worthy remake?

Murder on the Orient Express has received a rather mixed reviews thus far. However, it’s hard not to be tempted by the prospect of an old-fashioned murder mystery with a stellar cast (Kenneth Branagh is joined by the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Dame Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer) and clearly sumptuous visuals proudly displayed on the trailer.

And… well… it’s decent enough. You are unlikely to feel overly disappointed if you go in expecting… well… a sumptuous all-star murder mystery.

Daisy Ridley in Murder on the Orient Express

The cast is on fine form. Branagh is the obvious highlight with his engaging and authoritative take on the sharp-witted detective; despite a rather daft moustache, his performance is the undeniable glue to hold the whole thing together. Depp manages a solid Brando impersonation as the sleazy Ratchett, Ridley is classily aloof as Lady Mary Debenham and Michelle Pfeiffer is at her gabby, flirtatious best as Caroline Hubbard. Unfortunately the large cast means that some of the top-notch actors are left with too little to do; Judi Dench’s part as an eternally grumpy elderly countess never really goes anywhere. Even so, you can’t say that there are any real shortcomings in the acting department.

A great-looking but unevenly-paced affair

It looks as fantastic as it does on the trailer, complete with lots of impeccably-detailed and charming picture-book production design filmed from all kinds of imaginative angles by Branagh wearing his director’s hat. Some of the CGI embellishments are a bit overdone and obviously artificial but it’s only really a blemish during a couple of scenes.

On the negative side, Murder on the Orient Express does feel a bit uneven in the pacing department. At one moment there may be a frantic action sequence, at another the film is bogged down in another round of interrogatory work which seems to take forever to reach any real revelation. Admittedly this is the kind of film which plays best when watched on a slow Bank Holiday afternoon/early evening. It’s like slipping into a warm bath; it’s not something that’s necessarily meant to be hurried. However, following up a life-threatening shootout with a rather measured and deliberate climactic expository speech just feels jarring and unnatural.

Still, this is a film which largely does what it says on the tin and does so with enough overall style and charm to make it hard to resent.

Runtime: 114 mins

Dir: Kenneth Branagh

Script: Michael Green, based on a novel by Agatha Christie

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, William Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi

Rating: ☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

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