We’ve had a wealth of preposterous facial hair in movies over the years with the most recent and most memorable one being Kurt Russell’s in The Hateful Eight but Murder on the Orient Express has a first, the nasal hair moustache. At least we think that’s what Kenneth Branagh is sporting in the latest iteration of Agatha Christi’s classic murder mystery because here he seems to have two enormous hairy caterpillars crawling out of his nostrils and dragging themselves across his face looking for sanctuary in his ears. So it’s a bit of a distraction watching Branagh doing his detective deducting sporting this years winner of the mad moustache awards.
Which is a shame because Kenneth Branagh turns in his usual decent performance in the latest re- working of probably Christie’s most famous novel and follows in the tradition of the 1974 version with its all star cast. Here he finds himself aboard the Orient Express as it ploughs across the mountains of Europe only to grind to a halt when an avalanche derails it giving Branagh’s Hercules Poirot the opportunity to solve the murder of a blunt american gangster played by Johnny Depp who, for once, has not been plundering the dressing up box and wearing orange fright wigs (Alice in Wonderland) or plonking dead crows on his head (The Lone Ranger) or O.D-ing on eye liner and channelling Keith Richards (every Pirates of the Caribbean film). So when his character is frenziedly stabbed to death it’s sold to Poirot as a bed time puzzle for him to solve before he goes on to his next case which he reluctantly takes up knowing that he can’t really refuse being only too aware and only too happy to describe himself as the best detective in the world.
So each name gets there chance to give themselves an alibi but the script by Michael Green, whose previous includes Blade Runner 2049 & Logan, never really gives any of the stars a moment to shine and in fairness its more due to the source material which is very much of its time. With so many versions of the story the outcome is well known which removes any degree of satisfaction for the audience trying to work out whodunit. Which is a shame as it’s a decent cast but perhaps the biggest crime is that of Judi Dench who only has a handful of lines delivered in her best East European accent. She’s not alone though in being wasted or miscast. Indeed none of them really get their ‘moment’ to shine ecpey maybe Michelle Pfeiffer because this is really Branagh’s film and his version of Poirot mercifully avoids any Inspector Clouseau type accents although the script does give him some amusing lines which give the stolid proceedings a much needed lift.
The sets are sumptuous and appropriately claustrophobic and the photography, combined with the beautiful visual effects that highlight the scenery, make the film stunning viewing experience. But as stagey as this is Branagh is very much at home with the theatrics of it all and stages it well and even throws in a faux Last Supper tableaux for the big reveal of whodunit but overall as competently made as this is with its old school star appeal for both old school stars (Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer & Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz) and new millenials (Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad) it’s difficult to know who such an old school murder mystery is really aimed at although the film makers (which include Ridley Scott who executive produces)are clearly confident of a follow up with the film setting up Death on the Nile as Poirot’s next case.
Here’s the trailer…….
……………and click World Premiere as Kenneth Branagh introduces the cast to the audience at the Albert Hall………….