Like a gimmick on a comedy sketch show, Murder on The Orient Express brings together an all-star cast to collectively satirise a ridiculous film from the 1970s. The only difference is that this cast doesn’t seem to get the joke.
Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this remake of the 1974 film, adapted from the highly evocative and impactful Agatha Christie mystery novel, as detective Hercule Poirot. With his ludicrous moustache and obnoxious Belgian accent, Branagh sets the audiences’ expectations within the first five minutes of the film. The opening is an attempt to convey the sharpness and whimsical guile of Poirot, but the stale camera movement and cliched score immediately distracts from the storytelling.
Nonetheless, the story trails on, and we see Poirot board the Orient Express alongside a piquant band of actors playing a motley group of different characters. To name a few: Judi Dench as a Russian princess, Johnny Depp playing the shady art dealer, Michelle Pfeiffer waltzing about as an American widow, Penelope Cruz as a religious fanatic, and of course many more. Despite the great talent sitting on the seats of the Orient Express, none of these actors ever get their chance to shine, for the film’s main concern is always Poirot, and his lacklustre investigation into the murder.
Branagh makes a few artistic decisions to diverge from the original film; first a rather obvious product placement from Godiva chocolates which appears three times throughout, but also some of the characters’ races are changed, attempting to bring a non-committal social commentary on race and justice, but failing quite dramatically. Some lines like “these men will be charged only because of the colour of their skin” are erased in relevance by stereotypically plotted scenes, for example a scene in which a man of colour becomes the only person on the train to act violently against Poirot.
Washed between cheap gags, moments of comedic relief to detract from the egregious script and lazy filmmaking, are attempts to connect with the striking sensation of the original Christie novel, but this never hits the mark. Branagh delivers half-cooked dramatic monologues and interrogates each character, attempting to further develop their stories and give the cast a chance to shine, but these terse sit-downs do nothing but further obfuscate the purpose of each scene. In the end, the train arrives at its final destination, but Murder on The Orient Express loses its steam before it even sets off.
Image: Fox press