Murder on the Orient Express movie review: Branagh's Poirot steals show from star cast
Just shy of 85 years old, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express remains as iconic as ever, a classic in the murder-mystery genre. So, when plans were announced for another big screen adaptation of Hercule Poirot's most famous case, and with a star cast to boot, fans of the book were understandably apprehensive. Those same fans will heave a sigh of relief after watching Kenneth Branagh's faithful adaptation.
At no point does Branagh pander to his cast, ensuring none of them are given precedence over the story. Instead, he keeps the spotlight firmly on Poirot, humanising the enigmatic detective, whilst never losing his enigmatic charm. In doing so, not only is he sure to win over Poirot loyalists, but will also bring new followers into Poirot's already teeming legions of fans.
For anyone who's read the book, the plot is probably seared into your memory. However, given Christie's influence on the murder-mystery genre, it will not sound alien even to those unfamiliar with her work.
When a snowstorm derails the Orient Express, the already dicey situation worsens when it is discovered that a passenger on the first-class coach has been murdered. As Poirot, himself a passenger on the same coach, gets involved, his investigation reveals the truth about the murdered mans identity, casting suspicion on the rest of the passengers in the coach.
As the various suspects all indulge in deceit and misdirection to protect themselves, Poirot's brilliance is the only way to find the actual killer.
A smart, faithful adaptation
Branagh understands that there is very little about Murder on the Orient Express that can be improved, and so he doesn't try to. There is no attempt to change aspects of the story to increase drama or insert unnecessary action. Instead, these effects are ably managed through expert cinematography and lovely scoring.
He even does his best to keep the same old world feel of the novel, even if he does so in exceptionally pretty HD. However, he has done away with a lot of the books overwhelming 'whiteness'. Given the more diverse audience the film will cater to, characters in the story have their ethnicities tweaked for the sake of better representation. However, these are just minor alterations in the story, not changing Chrisitie's original plot.
What Branagh does realise though, is that the numerous and complex clues and connections that Christie weaved into her story would probably confuse the viewer. Accordingly, Branagh simplifies a lot of the mystery, while never robbing Poirot of his moments of genius. The story's iconic ending is also treated beautifully, with cinematography, scoring, acting and dialogue culminating in a memorable final flourish.
Should you watch it?
With murder-mysteries getting increasingly OTT and fantastical, Murder on the Orient Express is a strong return to old school storytelling and detection. A must watch for fans of the original, it's a fun watch even if you don't know Christie or Poirot.