It doesn’t get more lavish, more decadent or more suspenseful than Sir Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen revitalisation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which in addition to its impressive scale and meticulous casting, contains an ending that you’ll never see coming.
Having completed a case, world-famous private detective Hercule Poirot (Sir Kenneth Branagh), decides that a well deserved holiday is in order. And so the debonair detective boards the famed Orient Express for a bit of R&R. But when a shocking murder occurs on the train, Poirot finds his holiday interrupted and is flung into a race against time to find the murderer before they strike again.
Branagh’s envisioning of Murder on the Orient Express is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. The esteemed director and thespian channels the grandiose dramatic epics of the 1930s and 1940s with his adaptation of this classic tale. Everything is shot in camera and Branagh makes the most of his enormous set piece, The Orient Express herself. While there may be a detective, a victim and twelve different suspects, the Orient Express is just as much a character, and Branagh and his team explore much of its exotic structure in considerable detail throughout the film.
World-building plays a significant part in Murder on the Orient Express and Branagh and his team take audiences back to the by-gone era of the early 1930s. This world is informed by elegance and glamour and Branagh shows all of it up on screen. The set-building and production design of Jim Clay recreates the first class decadence of travelling on the Orient Express and every detail is catered to perfectly, from the placement of the most delicate antique furniture to ample servings of champagne and the finest gourmet dining options. Murder on the Orient Express is a piece of cinema that most definitely sets your senses on fire, and you can’t help but imagine yourself seated on this grand train.
The film also excels thanks to its stunning costuming, which have been provided by Academy Award Winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne, who captures the exquisite first-class lifestyle of the film’s principal characters. There’s an ample supply of jewellery, flowing dresses, fine suits and exotic furs. Both the ladies and gentlemen aboard the Orient Express are decked out in the most stunning costumes and I must give credit to Byrne for her realisation of Branagh’s Poirot with his distinctive three-piece suits and antique cane, the lavish ballroom dresses of Michelle Pfieffer’s Caroline Hubbard and the completely chic gangster attire of Johnny Depp’s Edward Ratchett, who is clad in bold double-breasted power suits and wears the ultimate fur coat.
All of these things bring you further into the world of Murder on the Orient Express and make for an exciting and completely mesmerising time up-on screen.
Branagh most definitely stands out as the arrogant, analytical, and obessesive compulsive Hercule Poirot, whose obsession with minute details borders on the notion of crazy and who sports one hell of a moustache. While I myself had never read any of Agatha Christie’s works before I saw Murder on the Orient Express, I was still familiar with the character of Poirot and from what I know of the grand detective, Branagh hit the nail on the head. His deductive manner and minute observations were in perfect keeping with the character, and you could tell that he was enjoying himself immensely as this debonair fellow. And that moustache, my god, it was unbelievably impressive and is worth the price of admission alone!
The film’s bolder casting was equally impressive with a staple of magnificent performances from all the supporting players involved. But there are a few of them that I need to call out, starting with Depp’s despicable gangster Ratchett. Depp plays the villain well, and here his slimy manner shines through as a cocky up-start who now finds himself in trouble. What was enjoyable was that as Ratchett, Depp obviously enjoyed being the bad guy, and this of-course shone through in his performance. Michelle Pfieffer’s widowed Caroline Hubbard brings plenty of refined elegance, as well as an unabashed seductiveness that she throws towards Poirot, for plenty of uncomfortable humour. Then there’s Josh Gad as the bullied, and horrendously uptight Hector McQueen, who has found himself as Ratchett’s assistant and whose behaviour makes him an instant suspect. Leslie Odom Jr. brings a sense of refinement as the learned Dr Arbuthnot and has no qualms about getting in Poirot’s face, while, finally, Daisy Ridley is in ingenue form as former governess Mary Debenham who’s sweet and inquisitive exterior hides an agenda all her own.
If you’re wanting a whodunnit. Then well, you’ve found it. Branagh provides plenty of suspense for his audience and shifts the suspicion around the diverse group of characters. Whenever you think you’ve found the murderer, the emphasis shifts and another suspect, even more guilty shows up. Branagh keeps his audience guessing and uses Poirot’s distinctive deductive reasoning to find his murderer. There’s no CSI here, just a detective with one hell of an intellect and a commitment to that of unshakeable justice. At times you’ll find yourself on a knife’s edge, and that’s exactly where Branagh wants you.
I hold by my words when I say you will not see the ending coming, and the shock, along with Branagh’s care for this grand story leaves you wanting more. As a standalone suspense epic, Murder on the Orient Express holds its ground, and I myself would love to see Branagh explore this fabled character further in successive sequels. So buy your ticket, and take your seat, because the shocks come quick and sharp with Murder on the Orient Express….and you won’t want to miss out on them.
Image: 20th Century Fox