Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh, and based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, is a welcome change to a mystery genre that has become rather convoluted in recent years. The film incorporates great direction and cinematography, along with a dynamic cast that makes the caper extremely entertaining.
The film begins in 1934 in Jerusalem, where world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solves a mystery involving a priest, a rabbi, and an imam. In doing so, it is revealed to the audience that Poirot’s meticulous attention to detail allows him to solve virtually any crime presented to him. After solving the mystery, although looking forward to taking a vacation, he is implored to return to London to solve another mystery. His friend and high ranking official on the Orient Express, Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman) offers Poirot a spot on his train with everything that a first class passenger could want.
While waiting to board the train, the audience is introduced to the all-star cast of characters who will fill the rest of the train. The tipsy, confident Mrs Hubbard (Michele Pfiefer), the shady art dealer Mr. Ratchet (Johnny Depp), his butler Mr. Masterman (Derek Jacobi), his bookkeeper MacQueen (Josh Gad), Count Rudolph Adrenyi (Sergei Polunin), Countess Elena Adrenyi (Lucy Boynton), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), her assistant Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Coleman), Mary Debenhaum (Daisy Ridley), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Defoe), and Pilar Estrovados (Penelope Cruz). All of the cast members intermingle with varying levels of tolerance for one another.
After Ratchet proposes a deal with Poirot for his protection, Poirot declines because of the man’s demeanor. Later that night, the train is stopped after a snowstorm. After noises wake him up, it is discovered that Ratchet has been murdered. This leads to Bouc asking Poirot to help solve the mystery, leaving no passenger without some sort of suspicion.
When Poirot interrogates the passengers, he finds that each of them has something to hide, and could possibly have been the killer. With his master-detective skills, he attempts to get to the bottom of the crime. His systematic interrogation skills allow for him and Bouc to go through each individual and scrutinize the motives for each respective person. .
The film is very entertaining and very well directed. The scenes of Jerusalem and Instanbul are beautiful, and the filming of the train is extremely fun to watch. The film is presented as sort of a stage play, with all of the action taking place in one place, and character driven dialogue being the real force of the movie. The superb acting and character development give the film a feel of a movie from the 1950s, with little action throughout, but still with good drama. The suspense is built through the characters’ interactions, and through dialogue and flashbacks, that lead the audience to try to figure out who may be responsible for the crime.
Branagh’s Poirot is a great character, and the iconic detective is fun to watch throughout. Quirky and funny, he is able to figure out almost every possible solution to almost any question. His interactions with the rest of the cast drive the plot and keep the audience guessing throughout. The twists of the film will leave the audience wondering which character may be the murderer with a satisfying resolution in the end. I definitely recommend this film for anyone that enjoys thoughtful, old-fashioned murder mysteries.