I suppose that my lack of prior knowledge regarding this story is a matter of significance; I was pleasantly surprised by the story beats of this film, and I appreciated the twists and turns as one may when first reading the Agatha Christie novel upon which the film is based. Whether this is a profoundly flawless adaptation, I cannot say.
Kenneth Branagh’s work is diverse and complex. He’s behind the worst Frankenstein film I’ve ever seen (It’s really quite abysmal), and the best Shakespeare film as well. Forgive my resultant caution, as I was enticed to see this film but not with immediacy. Rather, I’d like to see more intelligent mystery films, and also more intriguing films set on trains (Snowpiercer is the only good train film I could recall offhand). So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film.
Branagh’s portrayal of detective Hercule Poirot is fabulous. It’s the sort of character which seems fleshed out and driven without the movie yielding spoon-fed details to a wide-eyed viewer without a bib. He’s funny and charming but also subdued and bitter. He’s sarcastic in such a manner that one might be fooled into believing an insult to be a compliment. As an actor, Branagh is riveting and incredibly, perhaps ferociously, serene. It’s difficult to explain how a character can seem to emote effectively while remaining steadfast and calm. While this is certainly Poirot’s story, I’d be amiss to lack mention of his supporting cast. There are many diverse characters who play their parts beautifully, however little screen time they may have been afforded. Particularly notable is Daisy Ridley, who I had not seen outside Star Wars until this outing, in which she is remarkably fierce and perhaps coy as Mary Debenham. Josh Gad and Willem Dafoe also stand out somewhat.
The writing in Murder on the Orient Express is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a quick wit with brevity and complexity I wouldn’t see much outside of Wes Anderson films (and I do so adore Wes Anderson films). I found myself incredulous at my own laughter in this film, as it’s not farcical or especially comical in its presentation, but rather, it can be hilarious through many short dialogue exchanges. Yet, when there must be a serious turn of events, the film (and by extension, Branagh) never misses a beat. It’s dreadful and morose when it needs to be. I don’t think that any scene was especially mundane. Poirot’s apparently realistic obsessive-compulsive tendencies are an incredible surprise as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s the sort of consistently wonderful and relatively believable dialogue which elevates what could have been a monotonous slog of a movie. As for the mystery, it’s resolved in a manner I could not have foreseen, and that’s a testament to the novel as well as Branagh’s presentation of the events; my awe as the credits rolled was well-deserved for this film.
There’s not much to say about the cinematography, unfortunately. That’s not to say that it is bad, but, without spoiling anything, the majority of the film simply occurs within various compartments of a train. There are a few nice environmental shots and some quick cuts around the train, but it isn’t spectacular. It’s competent, and the camera does its job well, but I was seldom taken aback by shot compositions or transitions. In terms of effects, the setting is made believable, and I appreciated certain outdoor scenes with some lovely environments. I’d guess that it’s all CGI, but I’m unsure, so the effects are therefore pretty good.
The musical score for the film is amazing. It’s gut-wrenching and turbulent as it should be, but it’s also boisterous and booming when such a tone is expected. I do not often see films which time certain pieces so well. It’s not so hauntingly memorable or mesmerizing as the recent Blade Runner 2049’s score, but it’s beyond serviceable.
This is one for the Wondrous section. It’s sweet and it’s profound. There seem to be hints at a possible sequel starring Branagh once again, and I would gladly seek that out if it happens.