Genius Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of an American tycoon aboard the Orient Express train.
I never read Agatha Christie’s book, nor did I see the original 1974 movie, so I went into this movie without any pre-conceived notions, other than expecting good things: A famous book, reputedly on of the greatest suspense novels of all time, and an A-list ensemble cast including Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, should make for an entertaining watch.
The best thing about this movie is the opening scene. We meet Hercule Poirot and his unique personality, and moustache in the middle of avoiding a religious war at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, and things are off to a great start. The story flows and so does the action, and before we know it, we find ourselves along with Poirot on the Orient Express from Istanbul to London.
A slew of characters is introduced – Depp is the dodgy American businessman, Dench a grumpy Russian Princess, Pfeiffer a cougar looking for a lover, Dafoe a racist Austrian Professor, Cruz a Spanish missionary preaching to the unconvertible, etc. And there are a similar number of B-list characters as well. It’s fun to see so many familiar faces in an ensemble – at first. As the movie progresses, the problem with this becomes evident: none of them get any depth. As a result, we are given no clues as to who might have committed the titular Murder (not a bad thing in a Whodunit I admit), nor do we really care for any of these characters – whether they have done it or not. The only character left to really get to know is Hercule Poirrot.
Branagh not only plays the lead role, he also directed the movie. And it seems he does like directing himself, as he certainly gives Poirot plenty of screentime. There probably isn’t a shot without Poirot in it in the entire movie. Ok ok, that’s not quite true. Let’s settle on Poirot being in the frame about 95% of the movie. Yet, after two hours, we still don’t have much insight into Poirot other than his unique attention to detail. Ok, so this movie is not about the characters clearly, so it must be in the suspense.
Hmm, well it isn’t. It is about as suspenseful as a high school play. I won’t give away any plot points, but as viewer we really don’t get taken along on Poirot’s journey of clues and deduction as for instance Sherlock Holmes might take us. Instead, after two hours we are presented with a ‘ta-da’ that really isn’t very exciting – not exciting because we don’t care for the characters, and not exciting because we weren’t part of trying to solve the puzzle. We’re just observers who go ‘okay then’ at the end of it all.
It is not boring – the flow is good, the acting is generally fine if never great, and the pictures are certainly very pretty. But the more you reflect afterwards, the bigger the disappointment becomes. So much so that I can’t even imagine the book being interesting either, and that probably is a blasphemous statement to whodunit fans.