There's nothing inherently wrong with this all-star version of Murder On The Orient Express, the classic whodunnit from Agatha Christie that has an ending already known to most people even if they haven't read the book yet (a large group that includes myself). It's rather fun, polished, and certainly throws enough stars into the mix to help things along.
Kenneth Branagh directs, and he also lets himself take on the lead role of Poirot, the greatest detective in the world (who isn't named Sherlock Holmes, I guess). Poirot ends up on the titular train, there's a murder, and he tries to figure out who did it. Everyone has a motive, it seems, and Poirot wants to discover the culprit before the train moves on to the next station. Because the train has also been derailed by a small avalanche, ensuring that the characters are unable to flee while the detective gets his little grey cells working on the case.
Working from a script by Michael Green, Murder On The Orient Express is a film both helped and hampered by how familiar and comfortable it all feels. It's easy to enjoy but not so easy to get properly drawn into. The snowy setting, the familiar faces, the family-friendly nature of most of the main scenes, this is something that feels more like a lavish BBC production scheduled for the Christmas holidays than a cinematic experience.
My other main complaint about the film is how the resolution comes about. It all makes sense, from what I can tell, but it would have been better to see a few more links being placed in the chain by Poirot as he started to formulate his main theory. This may be a case of elements from the book that were harder to put on film, or it may be a case of Poirot simply being a character who holds all of his cards close to his chest until he is ready to set them down. My limited knowledge of the character is gathering dust in a small recess of my memory banks, sadly. Either way, and I know it would have been difficult to balance the reveals with the attempt to keep the mystery intact until the end, one or two more pieces of information would have been appreciated as viewers watched Poirot put everything together.
I'm not going to pick apart every performance by the cast. I'll just say that all of them have fun at various points. Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, and Tom Bateman are the main players, but they all have to work under the long shadow of Branagh, clearly having a ball as Poirot.
If you're unfamiliar with the resolution to the story then be sure to see this before you have it spoiled for you. Also give it a watch if you like most of the main players (and why wouldn't you?). But it's surprisingly disposable and forgettable, especially considering the talent involved. I'll still end up watching the next adventure, however, teased at the end, and I'd even be tempted to watch some less famous mysteries featuring Branagh's take on the main character.
The film is now available to buy here.
Americans may pick it up here.
Get some Agatha Christie ebooks here, for free.