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Murder on the Orient Express
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Superhero
RUNTIME: 114 Mins
The whole idea of remaking a murder mystery, especially one of the most popular murder mysteries ever written, is inherently fraught with peril. After all, a lot of people in the audience already know ‘whodunnit’, either because they’ve read it, seen it, or heard about it through good old-fashioned word-of -mouth.
So, it was exceptionally smart to get Kenneth Branagh to remake Murder on the Orient Express.
The director of numerous Shakespeare classics such as Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet has built his whole reputation on re-staging classic tales that had already been re-staged thousands of times.
He knows that the trick to making another Murder on the Orient Express isn’t to keep us guessing. Agatha Christie’s impeccable story does all of that heavy lifting for him. The trick is to showcase an ensemble cast of incredible actors, each of them putting their own spin on a timeless classic, and to have a grand old time doing it.
This version stars Branagh as Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian obsessive-compulsive detective who is desperate for a holiday. But his trip on the Orient Express, en route from Istanbul, comes to a sudden halt when an avalanche stops the train in its tracks. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s now a dead body on board. Someone has been stabbed a dozen times and every one of the passengers in that train car - except for Poirot, of course - is now a suspect.
There’s the famous array of characters, straight out of a Cluedo board game set. There’s a governess with a secret, played by Daisy Ridley, and a doctor with his own secrets, played by Leslie Odom Jr. There’s a shady American businessman, played by Johnny Depp. There’s a racist Austrian professor, played by Willem Dafoe. There’s a stuffy princess played by Judi Dench, and her put-upon servant, played by Olivia Colman.
There’s the victim’s alcoholic assistant, played by Josh Gad, and his long-suffering valet, played by Derek Jacobi. There’s a deeply religious woman with a past, played by Penélope Cruz, and a flirtatious socialite, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
The big names and the big performances go on.
The cast is dazzling and Branagh gives each of them their moment to shine, as they are interrogated one-by-one. The luscious cinematography makes even the most confined spaces seem full of portent and possibility, and the deft adaptation keeps the film sprinting swiftly from one memorable sequence to another.
Murder on the Orient Express speeds along just like, well, the eponymous train, giving us plenty of time to take in the sights while moving steadily, still full of suspense, towards its final, shocking destination.
As usual, Branagh saves the juiciest part for himself. His rendition of Poirot is heroic and hilarious, driven by compulsion but impishly amused by his own cleverness. As the mystery ploughs forward, and the clues make less and less sense, his uncertainty tears him apart. You can always see Poirot’s gears turning and it’s delightful when the engine works and tragic when it sputters.
He’s phenomenal in front of and behind the camera because he seems to love playing with these toys, from the enchanting prologue that gives weight to Poirot’s legend, to the ambitious long takes that remind you of just how dazzling this ensemble is.
He loves his cast so much that when he assembles them into the same shot together, he stages them like Da Vinci’s Last Supper. And the action gets just as much attention as the dialogue, so that the smallest moments are just as captivating at the big ones, and that’s really, truly captivating.
Murder on the Orient Express may not be a particularly ‘necessary’ adaptation. If you’ve seen Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-winning film from 1974, you’ve already seen a pitch perfect rendition of Agatha Christie at her best. But Branagh’s interpretation is just as delightful in some ways, and almost as delightful in all the others.
It’s a classy, riveting remake, and it will make you want to see even more adventures featuring this particular Poirot.
Now showing in: Novo, Cineco, Seef II, Wadi Al Sail, Saar, Al Jazira, Dana, Mukta A2
Kristian’s verdict: 5/5