We all love a good ‘Whodunnit?’ don’t we? Whether it’s trying to identify who the bad guy hiding in plain sight is in shows like The Flash or Arrow, or trying to unravel the mysteries of true detective greats like Sherlock Holmes, few of us can resist the pull of an enthralling enigma and the magic of a mystery, whose genre is naturally infused with suspense, twists and thrills. Very few writers in modern literature have a knack for captivating readers in puzzling intrigue as much as Agatha Christie. The fact that Kenneth Branagh is the fifteenth actor to portray the uniquely talented and infamous private detective, Hercule Poirot on screen (not including parodies and works not penned by Christie) epitomises the demand there is for watching protagonists hunting for answers and cracking clues. As well as taking on the lead role, Branagh takes the director’s chair in the latest adaptation of Christie’s famous novel Murder on the Orient Express.
On the surface, the film holds promise but this is likely down to its source material, which has been adapted for the silver screen numerous times since it was published in 1934. The story is a testament to how such mysteries can continue to hook generations of audiences. Branagh’s interpretation of this is very dialogue driven, with a plot that quickly moves along through softly spoken lines, intense interrogation scenes with Poirot, as well as animated exchanges. It’s a film that requires the audience to give it full attention in order to keep up with its challenging pace, as detective Poirot sharply articulates what he deduces, with a story full of deceit and deception for our lead character to decipher. The sharpness of it is somewhat reminiscent of Benedict’s Cumberbatch’s brilliant but highly intellectual performance in the Sherlock series. At times, you feel like yelling at the screen ‘Whoa, hold on, can you repeat that s-l-o-w-l-y’, as you sit there trying to figure out how the detective has reached the conclusion they’ve arrived at.
Although the film is aided with visually stunning cinematography and an ensemble cast, many of the characters are harshly under-developed and could do with more fleshing out, as the star faces aboard the Orient Express are difficult to connect with. That being said, Judi Dench dazzles as always, and great performances are delivered by Broadchurch’s Olivia Coleman, and the young Daisy Ridley who will soon appear in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
One character who the audience can invest in is indeed Poirot, who poignantly claims that, “I can only see a world as it should be. It makes an imperfection stick out like the nose on your face.” Poirot’s sees the world through a lens with a keen attention to detail, and his ability to detect reasoning for what people do and say shows his intuition to read between the lines, and determine people’s motivations for their actions or utterances. It’s a rare gift that indicates that it must be a lonely life to lead, despite being revered as a famous detective. Poirot even looks the part, sporting a gloriously epic moustache on his face. The elaborate and theatrical ways he unveils his answers to mysteries in the film are, at times as amusing as his character is fascinating.
So, what’s the verdict on whether you should see Murder on the Orient Express? It must be said that if you like a good murder plot, in which, as previously mentioned, twists and unpredictability inevitably come into the equation, then look no further for a great watch. The suspense is amped up as, with all the passengers being confined to the train due to a snowdrift, danger lurks as the murder suspect must be among the passengers aboard. Suspense doesn’t always mean action though, with the film instead choosing to weave its drama into the lightning fast dialogue. Murder on the Orient Express might boast an impressive cast of stars, but each actor isn’t given enough meaningful screen time, and thus, solves the mystery of whether you should bother with Branagh’s latest adaptation.