Plot: The ace detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has closed yet another tough case, but he is ready for a break and some much needed rest. He is offered a ride on the famed Orient Express, so he accepts and readies himself for the start of a nice, relaxing stretch of free time. On the train, he is cordial to the other passengers, but is most interested in his book, A Tale of Two Cities. Some of those on the train know who he is, such as art dealer Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who hopes Poirot can assist him in an important personal matter. Ratchett has sold some inauthentic items to the wrong folks, the kind of people who will do whatever it takes to settle a score. He offers Poirot a lot of money to watch over him and ensure he reaches his destination safely, but Poirot isn’t interested. The detective’s interest in piqued however, when the train is stopped by an avalanche and in the chaos, Ratchett is killed. With a train full of suspects and little to go on, can even the great Hercule Poirot solve this one?
Entertainment Value: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is one of the all time great murder mysteries, one that has been adapted to film, stage, and television more than a few times. Kenneth Branagh leads this production and steers it toward style over substance, dropping most of the depth from the characters and going for more of a casual, popcorn whodunit. So if you want a complex, wheels always turning kind of movie, you might be let down here. When you simplify characters and remove a lot of the development, it tends to water down the entire narrative and that is the case with this picture. The movie has a brisk pace and never bores, but it lacks depth and and in the end, the finale’s reveals lose some impact. If you want the strongest conclusion, you need to invest in the characters and since this movie doesn’t do that, it shows when the finish comes off rather flat. But I am sure a lot of viewers will appreciate the faster pace and more direct approach taken, as it doesn’t require you to recall subtle details or invest in the characters, outside of Poirot himself. Branagh camps it up as Poirot, eating scenes left and right, while the star studded supporting ensemble is essentially an impressive chain of cameos. In the end, Murder on the Orient Express is a brisk, watchable movie, but it could have been so much more.
No nakedness. On the blood side of things, we see the aftermath of the murder and one knife wound on another passenger, but that’s all. This is not a serial killer on the loose or a ten little Indians type situation, so the lack of violence makes sense. The dialogue is odd, as most of the cast seems to be going for a serious tone, while Branagh is over the top in most of his scenes. He even comes off as the comic relief often, so it is clear he was having fun hamming it up in this one. His performance will delight some and it is fun to watch, but feels out of place within the rest of the movie. Poirot is an odd duck of course, but Branagh makes him into almost a slapstick figure or a lunatic. So one point for his unusual presence, but otherwise, the writing is serious in tone and offers few wild moments. In terms of craziness, we have Branagh’s strange performance and one early scene that involves a ridiculous martial arts fight. The action scene is so cringe worthy and out of place, so I had to mention it here. Yes, the movie tries to justify it, but it makes no real sense.
Overall Insanity: 1/10