Man, it’s been a while since we got an Agatha Christie adaptation. And it’s taken that absence to realize there has been a blaring void in the world of the ‘who-dunit,’ And I gotta say, folks. I missed the heck out of it apparently.
Kenneth Branagh, steps into the boots and facial hair of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. In addition, Branagh brings his classic cinematic approach as director. Along with that classic theater feel that Branagh brings to his cinematic endeavors, he compiles a pretty magnificent ensemble to fill the roster of his murder suspects as well.
The story follows Hercule Poirot as he ventures out on board a train filled with a few eccentric characters. When one of the passenger folks turns up murdered, Poirot swoops into a superhero like detective mode to uncover the culprit.
Branagh’s portrayal as Poirot is as fun, multifaceted and complex as his facial hair. He doesn’t steer heavily into what could have been a goofy eccentric. Instead, he takes a two-fisted approach, giving Poirot a superhero ability that is almost debilitating to other areas of his life. He plays the confidence with a slight vulnerability that adds a ton of greatness to the role.
His ensemble includes heavy hitters like Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz and more. Each doing an excellent job of their own. There is a scene involving Dafoe that reminded me how effortlessly he is able to pull of huge feats in what had to have been a difficult move for someone that isn’t of his caliber. I could watch these folks play in Branagh’s theatrical fish tank all day long. Everyone is exceptional.
The film begins with a special kind of kinetic energy, that is somewhat reminiscent of early Spielberg work. Swooping cameras trek and jib all over the dang place, creating this infectiously fun atmosphere. Pair all that energy with Poirot’s onscreen confident, wise cracking coolness and the formula is right for something irreplaceable. It’s a callback to classic 50’s and 60’s French film techniques. Watching the first 20 min of this film is truly a special experience.
Once the train is stranded in the snow storm. Branagh, makes an interesting decision. He makes all the kenetic camera energy stop in its tracks. From that point on, most shots are stationary. It’s a great way to display the sudden standstill of the train, but it really sucks the energy out of the room as well. Even the characters seem a little more somber after the sudden stop. It is a bit jarring, and I could see it as being a divisive move for some. After a few moments of readjustment, I found my way into being comfortable with the second half of the film.
The investigation itself is a fun exploration of classic Agatha Christie, and her ability to bring the audience into the fun of trying your turn at who done did it.
The choice to go with a 70mm approach here works intensely well in both wide snowscapes and tight quarters. Once the 70mm moves into the interior of the train, it works ingeniously to create a feeling of walls closing in and a palpable claustrophobia. It’s basically creating the ticking clock from High Noon in its methodology and that kind of thought really gains my cinematic love.
Murder on The Orient Express is Branagh having a godamned blast behind the camera and filling his audience with that excited liveliness by extension. This is the best Christie adaptation to date and it’s a must-see. The film gives a nod to a continuation of the Agatha Christie-verse, and I for one sure as heck hopes it finds its footing and audience at the box office to be part of more Branagh/Christie world building and of course, more that amazing facial hair.