A man is found murdered on a train that has the world's greatest detective as a passenger.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer
Review by Jon Kissel
Casetti deserves to die and Poirot doesn’t make the case that he must stand trial, so what comes in between are the workmanlike paces of a mystery. Each of the twelve suspects needs to be withholding something that makes them look suspicious or motivated or just shifty, both to reinforce Poirot’s brilliance and to differentiate their characters. There’ll be a red herring or two before the big j’accuse moment, this time not in a smoking parlor but under a snowy train tunnel in an admittedly elegant Last Supper homage. As written by Christie, the creator of many of these tropes, the story understands the limited number of subversions available to it, so everyone’s guilty together, led by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Linda Arden, pulling off her disguise like she was a Scooby Doo villain.
Though the events and mechanics of the film don’t move me, the underlying theme and many of the performances do. Interrogation scenes and confession scenes offer moments for the actors to shine, and while Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t require great actors for what are mostly minor parts, Branagh assembled them anyway. Himself a legendary Shakespearean master, Branagh is hampered by the overdone accent and a personal peeve of mine, wherein an English-as-a-second-language character speaks in English when they’re alone instead of the language that their accent is based on. His supporting players are far better, with Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, and a resurgent Pfeiffer standing out. The film breaks down the idea of a crime ending when its perpetrator is caught, as the start of this story is years earlier when Casetti first murdered a little girl with connections to all the suspects. The suspects are all collateral on any given Law and Order episode, but here, their pain and grief are open wounds that remain so even after the film ends.
Murder on the Orient Express is a classic story that I’m glad to have seen in a passable incarnation. It’s got some structural flaws, I don’t like Josh Gad playing so baldly against type, and I have no idea why that Russian diplomat was fighting dudes off three-deep in a Turkish train station, but it moves quickly enough and has top-rate actors taking their work seriously. Branagh’s not setting the world on fire, and I won’t be racing out to see the forthcoming sequel. This was… fine, and I’m surprised I was able to write this much about it. C