Hercule Poirot may be the greatest detective in the world, but he may also be the dullest. Or at least that’s how it seems in Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Though Branagh plays the Belgian detective with a few quirks that seem to be pulled from a TV cops procedural, it’s only the character’s burly moustache that sets him apart as something interesting. Agatha Christie’s detective may have solved murders and other crimes in 33 novels and more than 50 short stories, but I’ll take Jane Marple and Phryne Fisher over Branagh’s sullen hero any day of the week.
The film starts with a light atmosphere that never returns to the screen once the murder happens. Sure, a murder tends to drag down the high spirits, but it’s a slog watching Poirot bitingly interview passengers when he’s not gazing longingly at the photo of a woman named Katherine.
There’s never a break as Poirot tries to maneuver himself around the lies that the passengers tell, and a bulk of the movie is made of Poirot simply interrogating other people.
And while coming to quick conclusions that the reader/audience is slower to grasp is a staple in the mystery genre, Branagh’s film is slightly less sophisticated in presenting the clues.
In an effort to show how amazing Poirot is, the clues aren’t adequately given for the audience to get a chance to solve it for themselves. There’s almost no way to establish relationships or know the passengers’ backstories that Poirot read off their passports off-screen.
It rather takes the fun out of watching a murder mystery. And for those who are already familiar with Christie’s novel, there’s very little in the movie that will make it worth watching.
It’s possible that 12 is simply too high of a number for a list of suspects – at least too high for something on the silver screen. So much time is spent interviewing each suspect that you forget to give them depth or much emotion.
That’s not to say the acting caliber in the film is somehow lacking. The actors, for the most part, pull their weight, though some are relegated to simple caricatures. You barely get acquainted with the rather bubbly Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) or the inexplicably violent Count (Sergei Polunin) and his wife (Lucy Boynton).
Christie’s famous novel may be best suited to just that – a novel.