4 / 5
Agatha Christie wrote many murder mystery books and plays which all sought to reveal the savage nature of people. Strip away the finery and social class and we are all capable of the most brutal acts.
One of her main characters was Hercule Poirot a man that wears a distinctive moustache, cannot have eggs that are different sizes and is probably one of the greatest (fictional) detectives who ever lived. He is often mistaken for French because of his accent, but is in fact Belgian. While one case has just wrapped he is called away to another, to get there he must board The Orient Express.
Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of the Belgian detective. Like Sherlock Holmes he has a sharp eye and when there is a crime considers it his duty to solve it. However he doesn’t so much do it for thrills rather than a task that must be undertaken to set the world right. He could be considered just another pedantic gentleman that enjoys food, drink, art and company, but when he must he sees into the nature of the individual and human nature itself. The performance allows for fluffy fun and sharp seriousness.
As well as taking on the main role Branagh works behind the camera. He comes with more than a few neat visuals. Long unbroken shots of moving through the train, overhead shots where the location and characters seem like pieces on a board-game and looking at the characters through the tilted edges of glass creating the effect of dual faces. As an actor as well he knows how to talk to his cast so solid performances from all.
On the train are many passengers from all walks of life. An Austrian professor (Willem Defoe), a count (Sergio Polunin), a governess (Daisy Ridley), a missionary (Penelope Cruz), a widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), a Salesman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), a Princess (Judi Dench) being accompanied by her maid (Olivia Colman), a gangster named Ratchett (Johnny Depp) that feels his life may be in danger, he is accompanied with his butler (Derek Jacobi) and assistant (Josh Gad).
While the train marches along one night lightning strikes the mountain sending snow down, blocking the tracks. It is easily dealt with in due time, but not all of the passengers are present, Ratchett has been murdered. Who did such a thing to an unquestionably bad man? That is the question and through clues, cross referenced with alibi’s and Poirot’s deduction skills the truth will be found.
This is probably the definition of an all star cast. Every one of the passengers is a big star. This takes away from being truly engaging but it also helps hide the identity. If this was a cast of lesser profile actors, or unknowns and only one A-Lister then we’d instantly be drawn the the one star and suspect them. But being that they are all big names there clearly wont be any favouritism.
There are many more books to be adapted if this one does very well. It could, considering it’s great cast. If the studio does go on to do more then they will. It is odd being that everything has to become a franchise now, but still there is nothing that is building up for the next movies, you can go into this one and know nothing about Poirot, you will learn by the end and be satisfied while the credits roll.
All that being said this is a well crafted and acted movie that has an expert both behind and in-front of the camera as well as having one of the greats works by one of the greatest writers in the genre. How could it go badly? I’m not sure but I’m glad it didn’t.