Murder on the Orient Express  is one of five adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel that was published in 1934. But this time the adaptation has a very capable combination of Kenneth Branagh running the show with an adapted screenplay from Michael Green (Logan and Blade Runner: 2049). The film follows the esteemed Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) as a mysterious murder occurs during a peaceful train ride through the gorgeous tundra. The suspects include characters portrayed by Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer -- what a cast!
Class Act: Murder on the Orient Express is a classic adaptation of a classic novel. If the film were not in full color I am convinced it was straight out of the 1940s. Branagh directs everyone so well which is no surprise considering his experience in Shakespearean filmmaking. And due to Branagh’s specific skills as a director, we are treated to that classy atmosphere that an older film typically illustrates. Scenes are contained as if they are on a stage. Dialogue is ripped back and forth and keeps the audiences entertained. The very beginning of the film is not exactly like this but once the story moves to the main setting it is a treat from start to finish.
What is a Crime?: Worth noting is the real-life theme of good and evil, justice and crime that closes the film out. Green’s screenplay along with the direction and performance of Branagh drive home this philosophical debate. It is easily the strongest part of the film.
Focusing on Wrong Elements: When sitting down to the first notable “whodunnit” in years there is a certain expectation. An expectation that surrounds great writing, memorable characters and a reveal worth remembering. There are small glimpses into these elements but nothing is fully delivered, unfortunately. This may be due to the film being spread too thin. For example, instead of providing more dialogue to invoke emotion we are given long close-ups with nothing but a pretty face. Or, another issue with cinematography, the number of landscape shots served no purpose other than to look pretty. Murder on the Orient Express deserved to have more time with interactions and less time capturing CGI snow.
Not Consistent: There are times during Murder on the Orient Express that demand your attention and at other times not so much. The tone of the film shifts too much and there is a lot left to be desired. Another 15 or 20 minutes with characters interacting more would have cemented Murder on the Orient Express as a major triumph for the year. But instead, it falls to the middle of the pack. Great directing but just too much going on as far as tone and scope of focus.