Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express delivers a classy, fun vintage whodunnit

Kenneth Branagh brings Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective back to the big screen in the delightfully fun and classy whodunnit Murder on the Orient Express.

We meet the infamous Hercule Poitot immediately, complete with the most epic and admirable of face furniture. Aside from his spectacular moustache, we’re made aware of his eccentricities and brilliant mind as he wraps up his latest case in front of a crowd at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. On his way to his next case, he boards the beautiful Orient Express for a journey that brings a murderous plot and detective delicacies that only the great Poirot could solve.

As the man (and moustache) walk through the carriages of the train it’s looks like a catwalk of A-listers as he ‘bonsoirs’ the not so nice Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), the stern Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), her shuffling assistant Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), the meek Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), the beautiful Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), a shifty Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) and an anxious Pilar Estravavados (Penélope Cruz). What then unravels is a surprisingly captivating telling of Christie’s 1934 classic showing off the great detective’s techniques, interviews and ultimate unveiling of a murderer.

Although, as always with an on-screen Poirot, there are some comical elements but Branagh does not define him this way; he is by no means a caricature despite the elaborate tash. What he delivers is a sharp clever and principled man whose eye is as precise as his wit. As both Actor and Director, Branagh’s taken great care to be true to Christie’s much-loved storytelling and those that reside within her cleverly woven tales. Depp is brilliantly creepy as the villainous Ratchett and as always Dame Judi is totally flawless in her, sadly, fewer than expected scenes. I enjoyed seeing Ridley outside of her Star Wars universe and she Kiera Knightley-ed all over the place making her a great watch and as likeable as always. I also liked Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot who got to flex a few sides to his character. However, it was Pfeiffer who I found the most beguiling of the supporting cast as she delivered a subtle well-rounded character who reveals just a little more with each appearance.

For a story over 80 years old, it still had me gripped to the end thanks to a fast-paced screenplay by Michael Green and tight editing that helped flow the story with ease while tackling many different character angles. I very much appreciated the overall look and feel of the film too which romanticised the bygone 1930s era. The film is well produced in all areas of costume and set while the wide sweeping landscape shots added some welcome grandiose to the otherwise confined location.The soundtrack was a perfectly pitched accompaniment shifting the atmosphere and thrusting Poirot along in his quest for the truth.

In summary, it’s not a deep-and-meaningful-epic-battle-superhero-Oscar-winning-spectacular but the well written timeless whodunnit holds up very well. Branagh shows that this vintage revamp has enough steam to easily deliver you to a satisfying end.

The beautifully shot Murder on the Orient Express is a rather smooth watch that presents an enjoyable ride through an Agatha Christie classic that is well deserving of this big screen revamp.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

Murder on the Orient Express is out in NZ cinemas from 9 November.

3.5 stars small