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Murder On The Orient Express - DVD Review

Murder On The Orient Express

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

KENNETH Branagh’s starry take on Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express is a lavishly mounted film that ultimately feels much less than the sum of its parts.

That it remains a train journey worth taking is down to Branagh himself, who ensures that his central figure – the legendary detective Hercule Poirot – is as formidable a screen presence as we’ve come to expect.

Branagh imbues his Poirot with plenty of pomp and arrogance, which makes his descent into self-doubt as the complexities of his latest case take their roll, all the more rewarding. He, more than anyone among the star-studded ensemble, lends the film its heart and soul.

To be fair, bringing something new to this fourth adaptation of Christie’s novel would have taken something extra special. But rather than do so, Branagh – as director – opts for a more traditionalist approach befitting his background as a classically-trained actor.

He is honouring traditions rather than subverting them. And so, his take on Murder On The Orient Express feels safe rather than thrilling, even though it entertains throughout.

The action starts in Turkey as Poirot somewhat comically uses his notorious skills to solve an incident of theft involving various religious figures. It makes for a nice sight gag and allows for a brief chase sequence. But the first 15 minutes or so feel a little too self-satisfied and smug, indicative – perhaps – of the character himself. But Branagh’s direction feels like a film, rather than allowing you to enter a period in time. It’s too lavishly staged, too impeccably acted and it makes you worry for the rest of the film.

Fortunately, once the action boards the Orient Express, the journey becomes much smoother. Part of this comes down to Johnny Depp, whose shady businessman provides the catalyst for the ensuing drama.

An early exchange over dessert between Depp and Branagh is deliciously played, with Depp bringing a brooding intensity that carries a lasting effect throughout the remainder of the film. It is, of course, his murder that Poirot has to solve. But such is the intensity and playfulness of their exchange, you almost wish Depp could have stayed alive.

Thereafter, Poirot must round up the suspects, all of whom would appear to have motive. Among them are a governess (Daisy Ridley), a pompous Dame (Judi Dench), a Spanish missionary (Penelope Cruz), a black English doctor (Leslie Odom Jr), Depp’s own second-in-command (Josh Gad), a siren (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a detective (Willem Dafoe).

But while the presence of such a formidable supporting cast suggests plenty of scope for further grand-standing confrontations, the film ultimately struggles to juggle them all.

Olivia Colman, for instance, is largely forgotten as Dench’s maid, while Dafoe also feels under-employed for long periods. Given the sheer weight of characters, it’s easy to see why Branagh – as director – doesn’t always find time to cater for them all, especially since he has also to be mindful of giving his own Poirot the space to breathe (for potential further movies as well).

But as the pieces come together and the film reaches its nicely played conclusion, Branagh – the actor – really comes into his own. The final scenes are particularly affecting, not least in the way that they bring the Poirot legend down a peg or two. He remains a compelling presence… the type of which we’d like to see more of as he heads off to solve the next case on the Nile.

Hence, while failing to grasp the opportunity to offer up a fresh perspective on Christie (save for the odd character tweak in terms of colour and ethnicity), Murder On The Orient Express makes for unashamedly disposable viewing. Good while it lasts… but quickly forgotten – the very definition of popcorn entertainment.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 54mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: March 5, 2018