High on top of the cold and unforgiving mountains of Eurasia, the Orient Express, a symbol of luxury and excellence, lies on its side derailed. Inside the train’s dining car 12 passengers sit in silence in the harsh light of electric lamps; exchanging accusatory glances and then hiding their fearful faces. In the first class coach are three people, M. Bouc, the esteemed director of the Orient Express, a dead body, murdered in a bloody frenzy, and the great Belgian detective, M. Hercule Poirot. This scene makes for a riveting mystery and an enjoyable time at the theatre, but in this film it is unable to impact or affect its viewers.
In Murder on the Orient Express, Sir Kenneth Branagh stars as Agatha Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot. Purveying his magnificent moustaches and an equally massive theatrical presence, Branagh’s performance is engaging and compelling. Along with his memorable and charismatic performance, comes a diverse ensemble; each actor and actress suiting their role to the best of their abilities. A few stand out performers are Johnny Depp as the cold and commanding gangster M. Rachett, Daisy Ridley as the lovely and upfront governess Mlle. Debenham, Leslie Odom Jr. as the charming and brazen Dr. Abuthnot, Michelle Pfeiffer as the sultry and seductive Mme. Hubbard, Josh Gad as the amusing and aloof M. Macqueen, and Judi Dench as the indomitable and frightful Princess Dragomiroff. Though each of these accompanying performers do a good job portraying their character, their characters do not play well off of each other. It is as if each actor and actress, aside from Branagh, thought they were performing a one person show.
Murder on the Orient Express also boasts of impressive technical aspects. This film’s visuals are engrossing. The train’s production design is immaculate, and the film’s deep blue color scheme is aesthetically pleasing. The camera’s movements through this set are freespirited like a bird. This often creates curious camera angles inviting audiences to examine familiar scenes from new perspectives. Though these shots are beautiful, they do not flow well from one to the next. It is jarring jumping from one gorgeous long take to the next, and the camera’s flamboyance can only distract viewers from the film’s story for so long.
Viewers need to be distracted from the story, because the film’s screenplay suffers from the performers’ and visuals’ similar shortcomings. Though the screenplay’s dialogue is at times humorous and yet also lends itself to dreadful tragedy, it feels dishonest to the presented characters and their inner secrets. It is almost as if there are far more poignant phrases characters want to say, yet they hold back and say only what sounds good at face value. There is little depth in the film’s dialogue, so the characters feel like personas in a murder mystery and less like a tangle of strangers finding themselves caught in a web of deceit.
Even though this film suffers, It is clear Branagh and his team have exerted great effort to make this film an interesting adaptation. It is also clear Branagh’s team did not have much communication with each other. The biggest downside with Murder on the Orient Express is that each scene is remarkable but when they are combined in this manner, they are lackluster. The film has good aspects, but its poor synergy diminishes the story’s weight and impact. Audiences will enjoy this film while they are watching it, but after they leave the theatre most will ask themselves what was the film’s greater purpose. This places Murder on the Orient Express in a unique predicament, where the film is worth seeing in a large theatre but it is not worth watching or owning on home release.