Happens all the time in Uber’s.
Belgium detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is a rather famous fella. He’s known for his smarts and his ability to solve crimes in a quick, orderly-fashion, just by gathering up a few clues and allowing his mind to run wild. But for this small trip aboard the Orient Express, Poirot thinks that it may be time to settle down a bit from all of the crime-solving, and get down to starting up a family, or other hobbies. But as soon as he begins to think about this, a notorious mafioso (Johnny Depp) winds up dead and all of a sudden, it’s up to Poirot to figure out just who the hell did it, why, and what’s going to become of them when they finally end up at their destination. And with so many colorfully shady characters, Poirot truly has his work cut out for him, however, he’s also worried about letting his emotions get the best of him and thwart the whole investigation.
If you’ve seen the 1974 original, chances are, you don’t really need to check out this remake. Sure, this one’s glossier, more stylized, grander, and with a much more modern-cast, but really, that’s all there is to it – the so-called “heart, soul, and general fun”, well, it’s lost. Which is odd because, coming from Kenneth Branagh, you’d expect tons more.
But what’s weird is that even though Branagh knows his way around staging beautifully put-together images, along with old-school, pulpy-like creations, he doesn’t really seem to have all that much of an interest in such a thing like the plot. Normally, with this kind of crazy ensemble and these beautiful images, that wouldn’t be a whole entire problem; there’s such a thing as painting a picture in a certain way to where you don’t even bother to think long and hard about it, or look at the lines. But with this latest re-telling of the Orient Express, yeah, the lines are so obvious and they are hard to turn away from.
Meaning, Branagh’s heart and soul just clearly isn’t in this. It feels like he had the opportunity to get a bunch of incredibly talented and famous people together, locate a bunch more of period-setting costumes and wigs, and was given a relatively solid budget to make it all work out, and he just did whatever was thrown at him. He may have an idea to do something else and surely, he’s worked with huge ensembles before, but here, he seems lost, dazed, confused, and depending on the pure charm and love of the cast themselves to get by on whatever weaknesses are to be found.
And it does skirt by on them. But just barely.
Oddly enough, it should have been a blast watching this cast play these rather over-the-top, cartoonish-like characters, but if anything, it’s what made it a little grating. The movie itself plays this weird middle-ground of not really taking itself seriously enough, but also wanting to take itself dead seriously too, but with a wink in its eye and a tongue somehow placed firmly-in-cheek, and the cast can’t help but follow suit. Therefore, we get a lot of pleasant moments from great actors who are otherwise given very little to do and shipped-off so that whatever famous person can get the spotlight next and hopefully, make things better.
Once again, just watching this ensemble all come together and give it their all, is something of a treat in and of itself. Having Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Branagh, Depp, Derek Jacobi, and uh, Josh Gad, all sit in one room, is somehow still enough to bring tension and excitement. And if directing was literally just about getting a bunch of talented people together in one room for a short period of time, then Branagh would have gotten an “A+”.
But that’s not directing. He knows this and he should know a little bit better. Maybe stick with Shakespeare next time.
Consensus: Even with an incredibly stacked-cast, Murder on the Orient Express can’t help but feel like a rather tired and somewhat trite retread of a much more fun and exciting movie than the one we get.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox