My favorite film critic of all times, the dear late Roger Ebert once eloquently put that he was envious of everyone who haven’t seen the greats like “Citizen Kane”, “Casablanca” or for that matter “The Pledge” as he felt that they still had such ravishing experiences to experience that he himself had already done and would never be able to feel the pleasure of it afresh that he experienced when he saw these films for the first time.
As I sat through, the recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, I kept remembering his words as that was exactly the case for me as I had already seen the exquisite 1974 film of the same name by Sydney Lumet and this picture had very little for me to experience first-hand in terms of plot, drama, and twists. Having said that, Kenneth Branagh’s version of the story is still a ravishing and sweeping epic that will largely appeal to the ones who aren’t aware of the plot or those who haven’t seen any version of it before.
The Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is on his way back from Istanbul traveling on the Orient Express. While on board a man named Ratchett (Depp) makes an offer to him to watch his back as he believes he is in danger. Poirot refuses. That night as the train gets stuck in an avalanche, Ratchett is brutally murdered and Poirot is brought in to solve the mystery. He now has to sip through the lives of 12 passengers and staff who are sharing the same compartment and track down the murderer.
As I mentioned before, Murder on the Orient Express is a picture of exquisite beauty. Practically every frame is dripping wet with lush colors, sweeping angles and great looking people and vistas. It is the kind of film that you should watch sitting right in the middle of a theater letting yourself not be too far from the screen and being devoured by an avalanche of colors and artistic camera work. The background score and the dialogs, of which this film has a lot, has been mapped beautifully to the visuals and they instantaneously grab your attention. The film has been shot on 65 mm film and is projected on 70 mm and I can only assume what a treat it will be to watch this film in a “Cinerama” theater. The fact that they used film instead of digital has made the visuals crisper and given the picture that royal look that nothing but film can give.
The ensemble cast delivers. Led from the front by Kenneth Branagh, the performances help immerse you in the narrative. Everyone on the train is hiding some secret or the other and it is evident from the manner in which they act when in the presence of Poirot. Yet they present the best and most confident side of theirs to Poirot and you as the viewer. I loved Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot. This would be the fourth different version of the character that I have experienced (after Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, and David Suchet) and I have enjoyed all of them. Interestingly, Branagh’s Pirot has good hair, is not fat and has a dashing persona that would make even the devil fall in love with him. His mustache too is worlds different from what we have seen in the other avatars of Poirot. I loved the way he conducted himself and the humility that he brought to the character. One cannot connect with a character that is not human. That’s where Branagh scores heavily.
Michelle Pfeiffer is great in her act. She is still as ravishing and transfixing as she was when she played the sly “Catwoman”. The final twist brings out the best in her act. Daisy Ridley is noteworthy in her act. She has one of the métier roles among the supporting cast and she does well to make the most of it. Judi Dench is a pleasure as always and so is Willem Dafoe. Johnny Depp as the bad guy Ratchett is terrific. He sets the right tone for the character and one look at him and you know that he could do what he was accused of. That, however, doesn’t take away his charm. Penélope Cruz is wonderful in a de-glam avatar.
For all those who are not aware of the plot, this will be an extremely rewarding experience. The source material is strong and is unlike most murder mysteries and the film sticks to it mostly resulting in having a plot that is intriguing and ripe with suspense and drama. However, going by the popularity of the book and the numerous adaptations, I am forced to ask whether it was necessary to remake this film? I believe most of the people who have anything to do with movies, literature or TV must have seen this at least once. With that being the case, the plot will definitely lose its edge and it will be left only to the treatment, visuals, and performances to drive the film which in case of thriller is never enough. That, incidentally is also my only complaint with the film.
Murder on the Orient Express is a visual treat with great performances and direction. This is a film for those who either have no clue about the source material or for those who don’t mind knowing the plot points of a thriller and are more inclined on the treatment, visuals, and performances. For both these categories of people, the film will have a lot to offer. I am not going to deny this film its due credit just because I knew every plot point. I was just not lucky enough to enjoy this story first hand but I am sure that all those who will know Christie’s story from this film will rate this film as their favorite among all other adaptations.
Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)