I have to say, fewer films have ever boasted such an array of talent as Murder on The Orient Express. A real ‘who’s who’ of actors presented the prospect of an incredible adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic.
It is to my annoyance and disappointment then that I was underwhelmed by the film, and shockingly much of my grievance stands with the cast. While Branagh himself is fantastic in the role of Hercule Poirot, everyone else failed to stand out. With the likes of Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley (to name but a few) starring in the film, I was expecting every star to out-perform the last. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and that is why I was left so disappointed. I think that the key issue was that when juggling twelve suspects, it’s not logistically possible to give all twelve of the Hollywood superstars their moment. The result is that no single person stood out. While the film is meant to keep you guessing in terms of ‘whodunit’, I don’t think it was aiming to make all the characters so forgettable that you wouldn’t even care ‘whodidit’.
However, while I was disappointed with the performances in the film, I certainly didn’t hate it overall. The film just about maintains its near 2hr run time with a script that features a lot of charm and humour, most of which delivered by Branagh himself. You could see that he was enjoying himself as Poirot, and this means that, if the rumours of more adaptations are true, I would be more than happy to see him return to the role.
Another standout aspect of the film was the cinematography, done by Haris Zambarloukos. Much of the camera work is slow, steady and kept at eye height as it slowly weaves between the carriages. It helps create the claustrophobic atmosphere necessary for the narrative to play out. As Mark Kermode pointed out in his review, one particular shot is very intriguing. As the murdered victim is discovered, the entire scene plays out in one shot from above, with all the performers carefully orchestrated to move in and out of frame. The result is like a Cluedo board effect, where the characters are slowly moving around, trying to establish what has occurred.
Overall, the film is still worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre. However, if you’re expecting excitement, incredible performances, or more than five minutes of Johnny Depp, I’d look elsewhere.
(I’ve just remembered that acting legend Derek Jacobi is in the film as well. Case and point, huge talent is wasted with tiny forgettable roles)