When you have a glamorous ensemble of passengers on board a pompous, plush rail that coasts along the picturesque Alps-like mountains on the backdrop of a murder heist, it accounts for all the ingredients of a sprightly cocktail. However, Kenneth Branagh’s adaption of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t quite produce the fizzle.
When Branagh, playing the pensive-yet-suave detective Hercule Poirot begins untangling the knot, the narrative submerges into curiosity, but it is the laboured pace of the movie that does its own undoing.
Branagh sets the tone of the story when he astutely solves a case of thievery under the sweltering heat of Jerusalem and in front of a thronging crowd. Some flimsy circumstances subsequently land him in the famed Orient Express, and it doesn’t beat around the bush before getting to the point.
A contentious homicide transpires in the thick of the night and everyone abroad is brought under Poirot’s scanner. The plot then revolves around every character and their best attempts at proving themselves innocent. Murder on the Orient Express spends way too much time in learning about their backstory and therein lies its flaw.
With a host of sub-plots crammed in, thank god for the resplendent snow-clad surroundings through which the whodunnit is set. It’s a welcome relief, coming across as if chiseled with deft strokes on a mountboard. Embellished with special effects by MPC, the shots across the Sultanahmet mosque in Istanbul, again a large chunk of VFX sequence, is simply breath-taking. The events of the train derailing aren’t paid much heed, though.
Branagh, who also orchestrates the proceedings from the director’s hot seat, hogs the frame most of the time, reducing an otherwise starcast to mere also-rans. The bling regardless, is consistent, as Penelope Cruz (as Pilar Estravados), Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff), Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen) and William Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman) among others, weigh in with the glitz whenever on-screen.
Johnny Depp, on the other hand, has little to do here, and was perhaps roped in to only add to the glamour value.
Murder on the Orient Express is more or less an endurance test, which could’ve sufficed if for a thrilling climax. But instead, even that turns out to be a mere damp squib. Blame it on the writing, or Kenneth’s direction, the movie fails to build on the promise it made in the build-up. Two-hours have seldom felt this long.
A Twentieth Century Fox Distribution, Murder on the Orient Express is directed by Kenneth Branagh and hits the tracks today, 24 November 2017 in theatres.