I read the early reviews of the murder on the orient express. While it is lauded generally for its stylish filmmaking and performances, the essence that was felt in the original Christie’s version is absent. And, critics who are familiar with Christie’s work shunned Branagh’s version for being too slow. Well, I read Agatha Christie’s book. The film has a lot of changes and additions. Despite all that, it is a very good entertainer that keeps you at the edge despite the slow pacing.
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) had to go to London for a case and he travels in the Orient express with ten other passengers. The train encounters an accident and one of the passengers, Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found dead in his cabin. Poirot takes the case upon the insistence of Bouc (Tom Bateman) who wants to present a closed case to the police.
The film shows Poirot initially as an eccentric yet quick-thinking detective who makes out moves and predicts the outcomes of an individual’s action based on his emotions. A much more refined version of Sherlock Holmes peppered with a matured appearance masquerading as a detective simply having fun. He is able to stop a criminal from running away using his cane. And, he is eccentric when it comes to balancing the scales of justice. To him, the criminals are nothing of beasts and there is only right and wrong in terms of solving a case. When it comes to balance, it is well symbolised when he asks for equally sized eggs and steps into the cow dung with both his legs.
But, once he starts to investigate the Orient express case, we see a total change in his behavior and it is visible in his body language. He becomes dead serious and a dramatic individual. In that sense, I miss the dry humor and sense of whodunit presented well within the frame of Christie’s work. That doesn’t mean that Branagh could not do justice to Poirot and the film’s appeal altogether. The movie is well directed and pacing, though very slow in between, was able to establish all the characters and the crime scene. Branagh delivered controlled performance and tremendous presence. If you haven’t read the book then you will realize, especially after viewing the film for a second time that the plot is presented rather cleverly. Poirot is very clever. He could make out if a person is innocent or guilty by just studying him or her. So, when the crime on Orient express took place and while he was interviewing all the individuals, he knew the possible explanation from the very beginning; who is involved in all this and how far the person went for this murder to take place. At one point he dramatically says that he can’t solve this case, as he does not know. He indirectly implying that he knows who is guilty (as per what is revealed at the end) but he knows that calling them out will hurt those who are wounded and is reluctant. We see reddishness in eyes at the end when he talks to the criminal. He is both intense and torn. But at the end, he finds his conscience and the necessity to compromise. Branagh has made it clear with his facial performance and body language, notably when he tests the guilty person at the end. Perhaps, the fans don’t want to see the dramatized version of this character but emotional context of the story about Armstrong is effective. Michelle Pfeiffer stood with her performance, she is manipulative yet vulnerable. Penelope Cruz stuck to her effectiveness, Daisy Ridley is adorable though looked off the character at times. Most of the other characters unless they are on-screen, is more of a “picture”, notably in the climax scene. Willem Dafoe and his character depth could have been better but it didn’t live up to the expectations. Well, finally Johnny Depp is in a film that doesn’t require too many gimmicks. He looks apt and suits his role. He is believable as the once upon time criminal scared of his environment. He knows that he has a lot of enemies and is very close to him while traveling. After watching the end, you will know why Ratchett drew out the gun when he saw Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz) come into his room. And, the reason why Poirot refuses to help him is further clear.
The cinematography is well executive adding old-school texture with a modern touch. The visual and sound effects are stupendous during the avalanche scene and the scene where the train derailed has good sound effects. I guess the film is also looking at few Oscar nominations for production design, costume design, effects and Branagh or Pfeiffer in performance categories.
If you haven’t read the book then you will enjoy the film. The film could have made better, especially in the whodunit scenario and the final confrontation scene but it is presented well without too much exaggeration or cringe-worthy moments. The main problem with the film is the sluggishness in between but despite that, you will sit through until the end.
Featured image: Slash films