Murder on the orient express
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench
The fourth adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most-loved and cherished novels, Murder On The Orient Express, with its star cast, succeeds on several levels. Perhaps, it feels a bit rushed because of the limitations of time, and overtly melodramatic in part—but on the whole, the screenplay does a good job.
The train and its setting comes right out of a stylish period piece, with each aspect meticulously presented to the viewer. Christie’s beloved genius detective, Hercule Poirot, is back in his newest avatar, being played by a quite remarkable Kenneth Branagh. The character, known for an uncanny eye for even the slightest detail, is first seen at a breakfast table in search of the perfect set of eggs. Within minutes, he’s cracked a case of a stolen relic.
Hercule Poirot, along with the iconic Sherlock Holmes, remains among the most fascinating detectives to ever be drawn up on page. And Branagh, with all the limitations he is saddled with (reduced screen time, the adaptation of an absolute classic, etc.), portrays the detective in the best manner possible. While the film is about Poirot, and his obsession with solving a seemingly unsolvable murder, the larger cast of passengers (suspects, soon enough) keeps the intrigue going. The limited time on hand, means that many of the scenes from the novel will seem sped-up (and some, omitted altogether). That is a real shame when it comes to good adaptations of books; no director will ever be able to fit everything into a two-hour time frame, unless of course, the novel is a short one.
After solving a theft in Jerusalem, famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is looking forward to a break before his next case. His friend, Bouc, the director of the Orient Express, convinces him to travel on board his train. Seeing the time on the train as a welcome break from crime-solving, Poirot agrees. The passengers of the grand and luxurious carrier come off as an odd bunch of people travelling together.
Among them are—the boorish Samuel Ratchett, an American art dealer who neither has the eye for art nor the head to sell it; a racist professor named Gerhard Hardman; the grumpy Princess Dragomiroff, who treats her personal attendant rather poorly; a holier than thou woman called Pilar Estravados; Hector MacQueen, Ratchett’s personal secretary; Edward Henry Masterman, Ratchett’s valet; a black doctor by the name of Arbuthnot; governess Mary Debenham; a talkative and seemingly wealthy lady called Caroline Hubbard; and the mysterious royal couple, Count and Countess Andrenyi.
After receiving some threatening letters, Ratchett tries to employ Poirot for his security, but the latter declines. On the same night, as the Orient Express runs aground due to an avalanche, Samuel Ratchett is found stabbed multiple times in the chest and abdomen. With much reluctance, and his friend’s insistence, Poirot takes up the investigation. As he gets down to the exhaustive process of interrogation, it is clear that things aren’t exactly as they seem.
On a technical scale, the film scores a perfect ten. The scenes involving the murdered body and the cabin that houses the corpse are shot entirely from above with great ingenuity. Even the outdoor setup of the train sashaying through the snow-capped peaks is so marvellously filmed, that you can almost feel the cold seep into your bones. If there can be some criticism levelled against Murder On The Orient Express, it is perhaps in the dialogue towards the end.
When I say dialogue, I mean the inflection with which certain lines are delivered; these parts, almost all of them in the final ten or fifteen minutes, border too much on melodrama and sentimentality. The sped-up scenes cannot be helped, and I empathise with Branagh and Michael Green (the screenwriter) in that regard. To adapt a classic to screen is no easy task—Murder On The Orient Express pays homage to Agatha Christie’s timeless detective story in more ways than one.