“I detect criminals. I do not protect them.”
Note: No spoilers here.
Kenneth Branagh directs himself and many other great stars in the mystery drama remake Murder on the Orient Express. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049) adapts Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel with Branaugh starring in the lead role of world renowned, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It’s the fourth film adaptation of this novel beginning with the classic 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery and many others.
Set in the 1930s, this film has a brilliant opening, especially the exterior sequence, before moving to the main setting on the trans-European train. The only opening miscue was too much steam coming from the delicious looking baked goods in the background.
Poirot knows as long as he’s physically rested he’s able to solve any crime in the world with sharp logic, amazing intuition and careful analysis. “My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world” is more of a matter-of-fact statement not a selfish boast.
Poirot’s looking forward to “three days free of care, concern or crime” but it will not be once he steps on a lavish, modern train for some planned rest and relaxation. Tom Bateman (TV’s Jeykll & Hyde mini-series) portrays train company executive Bouc who accommodates and assists Poirot on this important trip.
Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) portrays Governess Mary Hermoine Debenham and Leslie Odom Jr. (musical Hamilton, Red Tails, TVs Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) portrays Doctor Arbuthnot. Johnny Depp portrays a menacing man with Josh Gad in the cast as his accountant/assistant Hector MacQueen. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven) portray more mysterious men.
Michelle Pfieffer portrays a key female character who is a widow in a memorable performance. Frequent Branagh collaborator Derek Jacobi (Dead Again, Cinderella) portrays butler/valet Edward Henry Masterman and Penélope Cruz portrays missionary Pilar Estravados. Judi Dench portrays Princess Dragomiroff and Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz) portrays her German maid Hildegarde Schmidt.
The towering Sergei Polunin (Red Sparrow) stars as Count Rudolph Andrenyi while Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) portrays a mysterious female character. Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari (What Happened to Monday) portrays the French train conductor Pierre Michel while Miranda Raison (My Week With Marilyn) portrays Sonia Armstrong.
Branagh uses 65 mm cameras (like Dunkirk did) and often uses group shots with characters in the background to optimize this stellar cast. His shots that follow Poirot through the cars often boggle the mind and enhance the film while holding the audience’s attention.
The most emotional theme revolves around justice. “There is right. There is wrong. There is no in-between,” Poirot says. All the character actions and plot twist focus on justice more than any other element, which resonates on a high level.
The outstanding production, set design, costumes, music and cinematography create an amazing experience that equals the performances from the superstar cast that’s one of the best ever assembled.
Filmed in France, Malta, New Zealand and Switzerland, Murder on the Orient Express comes highly recommended and is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. Look for great extra features on the home video version that includes Branagh and Green’s commentary track, an eight-part documentary, eleven deleted scenes and much more.
One of my favorite films from 2017. Wish they made more films like this one…oh wait, Branagh and Green are returning the sequel Death on the Nile for release on November 8, 2019! The only issue on closure that was left open might actually factor into this anticipated sequel.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler