Director Kenneth Branagh is here with a lavish remake of “Murder On The Orient Express“. The film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name written by Agatha Christie. A detective thriller is known for its jumbled plotline, unanswered questions, a significant breakthrough, and above everything else, a considerable degree of solemnity and thrill. Branagh’s latest offering is a blend of all these elements and to put the icing on the cake, Branagh, who also plays Hercule Poirot, succeeds in stealing the show with his calm demeanour and an old-school moustache.
The film begins in Jerusalem, Israel where veteran detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) plans to take a short breather after solving a theft. Then, Poirot travels all the way to Istanbul in Turkey, where he receives a telegram from London about an impending case. He plans to return home. His friend Bouc makes the necessary arrangements for him to travel via the Orient Express. Once onboard, he meets a hard-skinned businessman named Samuel Ratchett, who wants Poirot to act as his bodyguard during the three-day journey which Poirot refuses to do. That night, Ratchett is murdered and Poirot now has a case on his hands. The rest of the film deals with how Poirot uncovers the mystery.
The story is cliché. It’s a typical detective thriller flick with a smart and a rather sophisticated senior detective using his brain to unearth the mysteries. The makers have played safe here. They haven’t added something new to the story. There is a murder and the detective is all in readiness to solve the case. There are 13 suspects and each suspect is connected to the murder in some way or the other. There are flashes of brilliance in the way the story has been portrayed on the big screen. For instance, the scene where an unknown woman rushes out of the compartment wearing a red kimono intensifies the degree of tension and suspense. The story is predictable for those who have already read the novel – the film still keeps you engaged despite its familiarity and predictability.
Kenneth Branagh is the ‘engine’ of this train. He is the fulcrum around which the story revolves. He steps on a piece of crap and then wants it on his other foot as well in order to attain equilibrium. Branagh has the meatiest character in the entire film, full of punchy dialogues and flamboyance, and not to forget, the Belgian accent with which he speaks English. The likes of Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Penelope Cruz have been given limited screen presence, but you can expect that from a film that relies heavily on its central character. Johnny Depp who plays the hard-skinned American businessmen Samuel Ratchett. He too, just like other characters, has been given limited screen space but ends up delivering a solid punch in an incredibly short span of time.
The music takes you back to the 1930s. It lends an element of suspense and tension to the film. The background score further brings to light the various feelings a human soul might encounter, right from joy to sorrow to profound grief. It also brings to light Poirot’s soft corner when he stares and Katherine’s photograph. Overall, composer Patrick Doyle deserves all the applause for taking us back in time with an immensely rich and flavourful background score. And before I forget to mention, Doyle is the same person who composed music for “Thor” and “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes“.
The cinematography is top-notch and is profoundly appealing to the eye. From the old-school sepia-tinted frames in Jerusalem and Turkey to the snow-capped mountains, Haris Zambarloukos has done a reasonably good job. The night-sequences have been shot beautifully and they complement the extent of fear and insecurity that engulfs the passengers after Poirot begins investigating the murder. Shots taken through the window panes are visually rich and showcase a reflection of good vs evil. One glitch that caught my eye was the sequence depicting an avalanche. I believe that the sequence should have been a bit more elaborate. The rest of it was fine.
Here’s my favourite part. First and foremost, I’d say Branagh deserves a pat on the back for coming out with an old-school detective thriller in the age of science fiction and Artificial Intelligence. It’s a faithful visual representation of a story set in the good old days of the 1930’s. As a director, Branagh has played safe. He hasn’t improvised and the film remains faithful to its source material. To top it all, Branagh is as big a driving force behind the camera as he is in front of it.
The film would go well with Agatha Christie’s fans. It would further excite those who crave for a well-made detective thriller. But, the extent of excitement would remain with you if, and only if, you haven’t got your hands on the novel. Otherwise, all of it would become a bit too predictable.
Overall rating: 3.5/5