Thursday, 9 November 2017

Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express


Kenneth Branagh swaps Willie Shakespeare for Agatha Christie with this sexy and suave adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express

Boasting a star-studded cast of acclaimed thespians (Dame Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi), admired A-listers (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz) and fresher faces (Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Lucy Boynton), Branagh serves as both director and lead actor on Orient Express, lending his trademark polish to proceedings behind the camera and donning a frankly ridiculous moustache and Belgian accent as the second greatest literary detective of all time (no shit, Sherlock is first).

The talent and glittering aesthetic meld well, though – getting the negatives out of the way early – I never felt like the bulging supporting cast was given that much to do. Which, granted, is bound to happen when you have a dozen plus characters and only 114 minutes in which to give them each some defining to do or say.

There are a couple of notable exceptions that shine; Pfeiffer is great as the seductive Caroline Hubbard, Ridley brightens up the screen as Mary Debenham and Gad fully commits to his role, pacing back and forth while being questioned all while smoking his sixth of the evening. Others – Boynton, Cruz, Dench, Dafoe, Jacobi  – are thin as paper and simply blend into the, admittedly lush, mise en scene.

Branagh has firmly made himself the star of the show; striding through the film with purpose and ending most scenes with a knowing wink to the audience at his character's own wit and intelligence, it takes a good 30 minutes to adjust to Branagh's outlandish facial fur and thick accent.

Distracting, cartoonish and delightfully zany all at the same time, I found his portrayal of Poiroit to be one the better aspects of the film. However, it's Branagh's work as director that really excels. To say that Orient Express looks gorgeous is a huge understatement to say the least; working in collaboration with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh has wonderfully captured the sprawling Alpine scenery and lavish 20s settings.

The camerawork in particular deserves a mention; Branagh plays around with the lens, peeking it through glass partitions and dangling it from high above the train carriage, causing it to peer down on proceedings like we're watching a game of Cluedo play out, with the characters moving of their own accord.

Preserving a sense of limited space while not feeling hemmed in, it's one aspect, along with the editing and score from Patrick Doyle, that succeeds in crafting a genuine envelope of tension, particularly towards the third act where all the puzzle pieces fall into place. As someone who has never watched, read or even heard of the twist at the end of Orient Express, I found myself riveted by the interlocking mysteries and suspicious character motivations.

Opulent and indulgent as well as imperfect, this is a cool and clever adaptation that keeps the pace chugging along.

The Verdict: 7.5/10


While it doesn't make full use of its ludicrously stacked cast, Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express is a slick and stylish update that should enthral audiences of all ages. If only the costume department had been more insistent Branagh went with a tasteful tash.

Murder on the Orient Express is in cinemas across Australia now.

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