Murder On The Orient Express Could Pick Up Some Steam

We all hate riding the NJ Transit trains. They’re slow, expensive, have stiff seats, loud passengers, and window views of construction sites.

Also, let’s not forget that lingering Jersey landfill smell bidding farewell to those as they head into New York.

Rewind ninety years back and there were trains such as the luxurious Orient Express.

It had cozy cabins, room service, star studded passengers, window views of towering mountains, and, oh, a murderer on board.

Well, I guess we take the NJ Transit for granted sometimes.

Before we hop on the Orient Express, we meet Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh.

Poirot is an accomplished detective who has just wrapped up a case in Jerusalem.

When Poirot gets another case in England, he takes the Orient Express to get there.

On his way, Poirot is approached by Ratchett, played by Johnny Depp, who asks for his protection. Poirot denies his request and later that night, Ratchett is found dead.

On a train with a dozen suspects, Poirot attempts to find out “whodunit.” 

Although the Orient Express may have its luxurious appearance with an all-star cast and glossy production, it still operates like an NJ Transit train: slow and mundane.

There is no denying the juggernaut of talent on this cast. The cast ranges from longtime respected players like Judi Dench and Willem Dafoe, to rising stars like Daisy Ridley and Josh Gadd.

Each actor makes their respected contributions and does all he or she can. There are little lines for each character, considering there is such a huge group.

However, Kenneth Branagh takes their spotlight with most of the screen time.

Branagh is the leading man as Hercule Poirot, the gentlemanly, suave, and articulate detective who can solve any crime. We can trust him on this, because he looks into the camera and says, “I am possibly the world’s greatest detective”

(Whatever you say!)

Poirot’s appearance is like a French Sherlock Holmes, with his cane and proper attire. Where Poirot stands out is with his epic mustache and funny French accent.

The French accent of Poirot is close to Professor Gorman’s imitation when he discusses the Seven Years’ War.

Not too shabby, but one that shouldn’t be used in a $55 million movie. Moreover, Poirot’s mustache is a work of art, serving as a well-trimmed silver bridge spanning from ear to ear. The moustache is practically the size of Branagh’s ego.

Unsurprisingly when the credits rolled, Branagh’s name shined as the director, producer, and main actor. This explains how Branagh’s character is given such a distinctive presence compared to the others who are simply dull.

We all know very well what this great group of actors can bring.

Willem Dafoe recently gave one of his best performances this year in The Florida Project, while Judi Dench continues to provide a strong lead like in the recent Victoria & Abdul.

However, they are mostly idle compared to Branagh’s commanding performance. As a director, if Branagh were to push the actors to pour a little more emotion into their roles, it could make for a compelling mystery.

Most of the time, Poirot interviews folks one-on-one to find the murderer.

Although this is prevalent to the story, the interviews are dull. Meanwhile, there are hardly any exciting scenes to wake the audience up.

It was a struggle to stay awake through a plethora of scenes filled with quiet dialogue. Sometimes Poirot raises his voice to put someone in the hot seat, but there are hardly any passionate arguments or crucial moments to grip the audience in for the ride.

If Branagh were to trim some of the run time and bring out the best in his cast, this could be a thrilling experience.

While it disappoints with some wasted talent and a sluggish story, the technical aspects are worth applauding.

Haris Zambarloukos’s cinematography is smooth, as the camera glides swiftly through the tight corridors and out towards the scenic mountain views.

Zambarloukos’s tight shots add suspense to the mystery, as Poirot grills witnesses in the narrow hallway outside the passenger cabins. In midst of the holiday season shortly upon us, the cinematography captures a cozy feeling similar to 2004’s animated Polar Express.

The railroad is surrounded by towering mountains, there is a crisp feel in the air, and snow gently falls onto the train.

Meanwhile, inside the Orient Express feels like a small inviting environment with its tiny tables and warm wooden cabins.

Although it may not capitalize with its cast and story, the film does have a unique feeling perfect for this time of year.

As I pen my concluding thoughts, the obnoxious whistle of an NJ Transit train sounds off at two in the morning.

Just like the NJ Transit train, Kenneth Branagh loudly toots his own whistle with an over-the-top performance, while leaving the rest of his strong cast with little to do.

The Orient Express stays safely on the rails, but with such potential in both acting and story, it is a shame this film did not rattle the rails a bit more. This isn’t a train wreck, but it’s worth punching a ticket for.