Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” harkens back to a simpler time. A time when train travel was elegant, extravagant, and in style. A time when the journey was just as important as the destination. A time when a murder made headlines and shocked the world. And finally, a time when ensemble casts meant bringing together some of the greats.
The company of actors assembled to ride the luxury train-ride of a film might confuse a modern audience. An ensemble made up by prestigious actors, with a freight train worth of Oliviers, Oscars, and Tonys between them, playing such small parts. Well, it’s all but unheard of. In the world of “Murder on the Orient Express,” they make perfect sense. After all, who else would look so at home in this opulent and lavish world but the upper crust of the acting world.
While the title may suggest otherwise, the film, just like the novel, is very firmly established in the world of Poirot. That is to say, we go where he goes, and for the most part, know what he knows. As those who’ve read the novel already know, this is necessary for the story to work. After all, Poirot’s ability to solve the murder hinges on a chance encounter, and a brief conversation he wasn’t meant to hear. If we see things that he cannot, well it ruins the magic and they mystery.
The world in which this film exists is one of bygone era. With its sweeping landscapes, elaborate decoration and costumes, and soft warm glow, look of the film is stunning. It takes a violent murder to remind you that appearances aren’t always what they seem, and even then it’s hard not to get lost in the stunning beauty.
While I would love to go through each performance, there’s just too many. Every performance adds to the sweeping nature of the film, and it’s breathtaking. The story itself is interesting, because it takes place within the relatively cramped confines of the Orient Express, but is impacted by a larger tale outside of the immediate narrative. We see only what is right in front of us, but slowly the bigger picture emerges. In the same way, each character brings that outside world into their performance, not revealing too much, but slowly showing the larger forces at play.
As the lead, and quite possibly the greatest detective in the world, Kenneth Branagh plays the part perfectly. His Poirot is as pensive, precise, and perceptive as you’d expect, but still as vain and pompous Christie wrote him. His mustache, which probably deserves its own billing, reminds us of Poirot’s flaws without distracting from his performance.
It’s a beautiful film with equally stunning performances, all wrapped up in a nice neat package, but with the possibility of future Poirot films. If you enjoy Agatha Christie’s work, you’ll love this film. If you don’t well then you can probably sit this one out, but unlike the murderer, that seems pretty obvious.
…just for fun: