Branagh does a classic mystery justice with Murder on the Orient Express


Harrison Glaze

Kenneth Branagh portrays the famously mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot in his new film Murder on the Orient Express. Based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, the movie sees Poirot trapped aboard a train as he struggles against time to find a killer among the passengers. Its all-star ensemble cast includes Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley.

Harrison Glaze, Reporter, Cartoonist

Agatha Christie’s finicky, dandyish Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot stands second only perhaps to Sherlock Holmes in popularity and recognition as a fictional detective. Poirot made his debut in the 1926 novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, continuing to feature in countless novels, stories, plays, television dramas, and films. His most recent incarnation, played and directed by Kenneth Branagh, serves as the focus of the new film Murder on the Orient Express, based on the 1934 Christie novel of the same name and released to American theaters Friday, November 10. The plot details the events leading up to and following an unexpected murder on a snowed-in train, a crime in which Poirot quickly deduces that the blame must fall on one or more of his fellow passengers.

From start to finish, the actors carry the movie onwards. Branagh’s performance, while diverging sharply from the precedents set by other actors in the role, does an excellent job of exploring Poirot’s darker, more personal side, as well as replicating the character’s legendary mustache. Michelle Pfeiffer and Leslie Odom Jr. in particular play their parts to near-Oscar-worthy perfection, imbuing their characters with just the right balance of emotion, charm, and mystery. Josh Gad takes a surprisingly excellent dramatic turn for an actor best known for playing a cartoon snowman, and while rather underused, Judi Dench unquestionably steals whatever scenes the film gives her. Even Johnny Depp’s acting, although frequently somewhat overdone and artificial, manages to make itself fairly convincing.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the film itself lives up to the excellence of the casting. Michael Green’s screenplay feels true to Christie’s original, complete with the frequent moments of comic relief rarely seen in modern-day mystery fare. What modifications the filmmakers do make provide the movie with a greater sense of both epic importance and personal relevance without reducing it to yet another Hollywood drama. Branagh’s direction completes the film, with richly panned vistas, lushly communicated emotion, and an intimate sense of place combining to reinforce the classic suspense and complex ethical and personal dilemmas that form the heart of the story.

All in all, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express constitutes a genuine triumph of modern filmmaking. Whether one seeks a good old-fashioned mystery, a well-developed drama, or simply an enjoyable time at the movies, this brilliant adaptation of a classic thriller serves to satisfy any of these needs. At present, nearly any moviegoer would find it difficult to do better than Murder on the Orient Express.

The Chant’s Grade: A+