Kenneth Branagh stars as famous detective Hercule Poirot in this star-studded adaptation of Agatha Christie’s blockbuster novel. Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Festooned with a mustache that looks as if an eel is dancing across his face, Kenneth Branagh plays famous detective Hercule Poirot (“If it were easy, I would not be famous,” he notes dryly) in “Murder on the Orient Express,” a cheerily uneven but enjoyable adaptation of Agatha Christie’s blockbuster novel.
Previously filmed in 1974 with an all-star cast led by Albert Finney, this version (directed by Branagh) is equally sparkly: The passengers in that elegant Deco train barreling across Europe to Calais in 1934 include Michelle Pfeiffer as a wealthy American widow, Penélope Cruz as a scarily intense missionary, Judi Dench as a feather-hatted Russian princess, Johnny Depp as a scar-faced gangster, Leslie Odom Jr. as a brooding doctor, Daisy Ridley as a charming governess, Josh Gad as a nervous little man with a secret, and numerous other well-costumed, furtive folk.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ with Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Lucy Boynton, Sergei Polunin. Directed by Branagh, from a screenplay by Michael Green, based on the novel by Agatha Christie. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. Several theaters.
All of these people have secrets — this is the world of Agatha Christie, after all — and they become gradually revealed, in predictable but pleasing fashion, as “Murder” unfolds. Early on, a passenger is found stabbed to death in a first-class cabin. (I won’t say who, just in case you’re new to this, but let’s just say it’s the person you’d most want bumped off — so thanks, Dame Agatha!) Poirot, who’s supposed to be on vacation and would really rather be reading Dickens, wearily gets to work examining the clues: a handkerchief with a monogram, a scarlet dressing gown, a pipe cleaner, a stopped watch, a mysterious connection of the victim with a horrible past crime. Red herrings swim past, identities are revealed and, throughout it all, the upholstery is glorious.
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Branagh’s direction, like that train ride, isn’t always smooth; there are moments when the narrative seems to have weirdly jumped ahead of itself, and a few performances that feel puzzlingly off-key. But those with a fondness for old-school suspense drama will find much to enjoy here; this is a popcorn movie with a high-class pedigree. I can think of far worse ways to spend two hours than watching Pfeiffer preen, or Cruz murmuring ominous things about sin, or Sergei Polunin (as a Russian count) performing a flawless ballet move during a bar fight, or Branagh bristling behind that insane mustache. You probably can, too.