With plenty of attention to detail and a flashy visual aesthetic – Murder on the Orient Express presents itself to be the grand mystery film of the year, with all the bells and whistles that a luxury murder train should have – so, does it?
Murder on the Orient Express is a crime mystery film directed by Kenneth Branagh and is adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie under the same name – entailing the murder of a passenger on a luxury train and the investigation that ensues as the world’s greatest detective is coincidentally aboard and must solve his most challenging mystery.
This film is both directed and stars Kenneth Branagh as the lead character, this gives one a lot of perspective as to both how he acts and how he presents the film – and it truly tells you a lot. The word to best describe this film is overindulgent. It became clear within the first 10 minutes of the film that the balance between something serious or comical was already straining, we are immediately thrown into an emotional scenario without knowing the character for more than 5 minutes and back into comedy again just moments later, then suspense. It’s as if this film can’t decide whether it wants to be The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) or Se7en (1995), and it struggles to find the right balance.
Another component that struggles to come across are the characters in general; as it is hard to become invested in any of the characters as their stories are brushed over lightly and you struggle to grow any sense of attachment. I must digress that there is a solid twist and a surprise in this story, the twist however is not something you couldn’t guess. This may or may not be a poorer adaptation of the novel, series, or previous film that have been made but from my perspective it didn’t even elicit a twitch of surprise when I came to the film’s climax. I do remain open minded about this story and would rather have seen it as a series instead (which does exist).
Back onto the subject spoken earlier about going over the top; performances are certainly in this vein as well – lead actor Kenneth Branagh pushes the limits of his skills in this film and while he marginally gets away with this performance he doesn’t get entirely out of the woods. Though Kenneth pulls off the Belgian detective it didn’t prevent me from squirming at moments where he was severely overplaying his character. Practically all other roles were adequate at best with Michelle Pfeiffer standing out as the seductress and one of the better performers this year in general.
In terms of sheer production design, sets, and costumes were all fantastic; bringing forth a sense of history while building all the tiny details that I’m sure I missed half of. The smaller details I did notice were certainly the film’s strongest assets. The CGI seen in this film was shaky, nothing to be surprised from considering it was not the film’s focus, but I noticed the degraded looking visual effects fairly easily. The lighting was beautiful and intense and the camerawork had plenty of great shots that made the movements through the train far more interesting. Unfortunately all of these components couldn’t fix the somewhat muddled pacing of the film, whether they are flashbacks or moments of deep thought for the detective, many of the scenes had moments that just didn’t fit and managed to do the impossible task of being both confusing and too simple at the same time, especially when going deep into exposition.
Director Kenneth Branagh certainly overplayed his hand but managed to make an entertaining enough movie to keep most people intrigued at the very least. This film isn’t something I’d watch again, simply because the only thing keeping me watching was not knowing the twist. Interesting characters are important, it takes time to get to know them; this may be the difference between a great mystery story that can be rewatched like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and something forgettable and bland. Ultimately, the story in Murder on the Orient Express gradually runs out of steam and struggles to satisfy the audience’s appetite for a real shocking mystery.