Review: Star-Studded Cast Can’t Save ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ From Derailing
Before the films, there was Agatha Christie’s 1984-book, Murder On The Orient Express. The book was touted as one of her greatest mystery novels. The first screen adaptation was in 1974. It featured an all-star cast, including Albert Finney as Detective Hercule Poirot. It earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar for her role as Greta Ohlsson — a character known as Pilar Estravados in the 2017 re-imagining — directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Why the character was renamed is a larger mystery than the newest installation of this classic, ambitiously shot on 70-mm film. The most uneasy moment happens when the train is felled by an avalanche, and everyone is left stranded precariously on a rickety trestle. It is a promising beginning, but the plot derails from there and is devoid of any of the tension needed in a whodunit.
Once again, there is a superb cast portraying each of the passengers, who may or may not be guilty of the murder mentioned in the title, riding on the Orient Express. Even the actors themselves were impressed with each other’s credentials (check out the video below).
Michele Pfeiffer, who plays the haunted husband hunter Caroline Hubbard, reportedly cried when she met Dame Judi Dench. Dench makes a star’s entrance as Princess Dragomiroff, dripping in fur and accompanied by two tiny, furry companions.
One by one, we meet each passenger as they make their way onto the train. The star-studded cast is led by Branagh, who does double duty as director while also playing the dashing and debonnaire detective Poirot. He speaks with a French-Belgian accent and sports an impressive double-handlebar mustache that requires its own protective cover through the night. The ‘stache was a character unto itself.
Johnny Depp is the shady Oriental rug salesman, Edward Ratchett. Depp, who always makes interesting acting choices, chose wisely as his screen time is cut short by the impending danger awaiting his character’s fate.
Josh Gad is Ratchett’s assistant, Hector MacQueen, who unsurprisingly becomes the first passenger accused.
The usually glam Penelope Cruz portrays the dowdy missionary Estravados.
Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) makes his big-screen debut as Dr. Arbuthnot, who is having a secret interracial romance with governess Mary Debenham, played by Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
Poirot’s reputation precedes him as “the avenger of the innocent,” in which noticing imperfections leads him to uncover a murderer. Branagh is charming and effective in the role as he drills down on each suspect about their whereabouts and possible connection to the deceased.
Set in 1934, Murder On The Orient Express offers beautiful, wintry scenery of Malta and Italy, which double as snowy passages on the train’s way to London. There is another unsolved mystery in some of the outdoor scenes. Despite the brutal cold, nobody seems to need an overcoat and there is no mist coming from their mouths, which usually serves as a clear indication that the temperatures are frigid.
The screenplay was written by Michael Green, who seems an odd choice since his resume boasts more science fiction (Bladerunner 2049) than drama. Silly dialogue thwarted melodramatic moments, producing giggles during scenes that traditionally would’ve garnered gasps. Odom Jr. delivers one of the more laughable lines in the film, “that knife needs to come out now,” during a scene in which his character pulls a knife from Hubbard’s back.
Branagh affably tries to inject humor with a wink in the script where Poirot carries a pocket-size copy of stories by Agatha Christie.
Perhaps he is intimating we revisit the book and skip the movie. SHARE this review with your friends, and let us know what you think after you see the film.