MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a deliciously kitsch affair but ultimately loses steam

It’s hard to believe that Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is 84 years old. Since its publication in 1934, the classic whodunit continues to inspire generation upon generation with a brand-new film directed by Kenneth Branagh hitting UK cinema screens this week.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS takes place on the luxurious Venice Simplon-Orient-Express as it journeys from Istanbul to Calais. Embarking on the journey with the sole purpose of taking a break, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) soon finds himself in the midst of a most complicated case when a rich American millionaire Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found stabbed in his compartment. With the train stranded in the Aps due to an avalanche, Poirot must solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Stylish, suspenseful and visually stunning, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a deliciously kitsch affair. Shot on 65mm, Branagh’s take on the Christie classic is hugely impressive from a visual perspective, capturing both the opulence and glamour of the era with its striking cinematography, lush lighting and stunning costume design. The director also uses space well too, juxtaposing sweeping shots over the Aps with tight moments that unfold in corridors, the confided space helping to ratchet up the tension.

In terms of plot, eagle eyed Christie fans will notice a few subtle changes from the original book. Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have tinkered with some of the suspects, with Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson now Pilar Estravados (Cruz), private eye Cyrus Hardman now Austrian professor Gerhard Hardman (Dafoe), Colonel Arbuthnot now Doctor Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.) and Antonio Foscarelli now auto dealer Biniamino Marquez (Garcia-Rulfo). The filmmakers also throw in a few plot surprises to keep this oft-told tale fresh, without taking away from the plot’s most memorable sequences and revelations.

In addition to directing the piece, Branagh takes on the role of Hercule Poirot. Wandering around with his ridiculously large moustache, Branagh’s gloriously over-the-top depiction of the Belgian detective is entertaining but is a little too self-amused to really capture what’s compelling about the character (Poirot’s gravitas and brilliance) and ultimately remaining in the shadow of TV’s David Suchet.

Paying homage to Sidney Lumet’s 1974 A-lister, the film also features an all-star cast including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad. While there is no denying that the cast is strong and there are many fine performances – most notably from a delightfully complex Michelle Pfeiffer – there is little room for intimacy or introspection here. On the whole, the film fails to make use of its staggeringly impressive cast, with the likes of Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley getting little opportunity to strut their stuff. In fact, of all the characters, only one is given the necessary space to live and breathe and that is the malign, gravel-voiced Ratchett.

That said, on the whole MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is an enjoyable journey. While it may lack the soul or tension of previous versions, it is sure to entertain and delight Christie fans both old and new.

3 out of 5 stars

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is released in UK cinemas from 3 November 2017.