Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express may just be this year’s most star-studded movie. Featuring the talents of Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Branagh himself, the film was eagerly anticipated as soon as news of the casting hit the web. With the 1974 Sidney Lumet-directed adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel is one of the most acclaimed mystery films of all time, with six Academy Award nominations to name, the pressure is certainly on Branagh to deliver a film that could be on par if not superior to the original. And based on the reviews for Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh has made a good film, just not better than the original.
While the 1974 masterpiece boasts a 95% rating based on 22 reviews, the 2017 version has a 65% based on 26 reviews so far, and the overall consensus seems to be mixed but leaning towards negative. Let’s look at what the reviews are saying about the film.
Variety: “A failure overall”
According to Peter Debruge of Variety, Orient Express didn’t quite make the best use of the cast. Although he enjoyed Branagh’s Hercule Poirot and his direction at the start of the film, he found #MurderontheOrientExpress lacking as whole:
For those who know the outcome of “Murder” going in, the question isn’t so much whodunit as how Branagh will keep audiences guessing, and though he succeeds in creating the most memorable incarnation of Poirot ever seen on-screen (upstaging even Johnny Depp’s competing cameo), the movie is a failure overall, juggling too many characters to keep straight, and botching the last act so badly that those who go in blind may well walk out not having understood its infamous twist ending.
Hollywood Reporter: “Spiffy, if not entirely necessary”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy enjoyed the film, liking both the direction and the acting of Kenneth Branagh. He found the film much “snappier” than the 1974 film:
In his direction but even moreso in his performance as the determined genius investigator, Branagh is energetic to the point of passionate fanaticism. For a good long while, the blunt-spoken, sometimes rude Belgian is flummoxed by a case that’s unique in his experience, his frustration driving him to distraction. But his penetrating intelligence can never be denied for long, and Branagh the director has come up with a novel, if far-fetched, way of transferring his climactic revelation scene — where he spins his conclusions to the whole group — out of the train to a more scenic location.
The Guardian: “Never gets up a head of steam”
Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian had no love lost for the film. He gave it a two star rating out of five, finding faults in everything from the acting (though he did have kind words for Johnny Depp’s Rachett), to the direction of the film:
When the murder is announced, the narrative clockwork is assumed to have been set in motion. And yet it is more like the victim’s pocket watch, which was smashed in the violence and ceased to work, thus giving Poirot a vital clue as to the time of death. Something about the story itself goes dead at that moment, reviving only with the big reveal at the end, for which Poirot assembles the suspects outside, all seated at some sort of last-supper trestle table. Carrying that thing around on the train must have been a pain, but at last it came in handy.
That said,The Guardian’s sister site The Observer gave the film 4 out of 5, so clearly it can’t be that bad.
Empire: “They don’t make too many classic ‘whodunnits’ like this anymore.”
Empire’s Will Lawrence gave the film three stars out of five, enjoying the moving performances of Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi but felt that the Orient Express couldn’t find ways to keep the film refreshing to audiences who already knew the outcome:
An enjoyable journey with a stellar cast, though the baggage we carry as modern viewers sees this ride derailed before its denouement.
Telegraph: “Orient Express never gets up a head of steam”
Telegraph’s film critic Robbie Collin, too, had mixed feelings about the film. He deemed it “frustrating” but did call Branagh’s acting exemplary:
Branagh has mapped out his film as scrupulously as his screen alter ego does the investigation, and fights the tendency for starchy period stories to wilt into camp. But a shade more playfulness would have gone a long way. This Orient Express clatters handsomely along, but I left the cinema wishing it had had the nerve to jump the rails.
The Wrap: “Misguided”
Todd Gilchrist of The Wrap felt it was director Branagh being too focused on making his character the star of the show that derailed the film, especially with so skilled a cast in play:
Ultimately, “Murder on the Orient Express” isn’t necessarily awful; it’s just inert, a prestige pic that’s too busy looking handsome and respectable to evoke any real intrigue or emotional involvement. Despite its shortcomings, it’s the kind of movie we need more of, where stars ostensibly converge to play a juicy, small part in a bigger story, targeted at an audience as equipped to appreciate seasoned actors like Dench, Dafoe and Derek Jacobi as A-listers Depp and Daisy Ridley. Certainly in that regard, Branagh extends an impressive lineage of Agatha Christie adaptations populated by some of the best actors in the world.
Den of Geek: “Solid”
Critic Simon Brew immensely enjoyed the film at the start but felt the film couldn’t quite stay on the course. Giving it a 3/5, he wrote:
It’s telling in fact that a lot of the pre-babble about the film has focused on the impressive facial hair that he sports as Hercule Poirot, and it’s more things like that you’ll likely end up talking about on the way out of the film. But you do get a solid, well-made, enjoyable murder mystery caper, with a welcome old fashioned tinge to it too. Worth a ticket.
Digital Spy: “Lavish but average. Laverage”
Digital Spy’s Rosie Fletcher felt that the movie wasn’t original enough and may find it hard to keep up with contemporary audiences. But she enjoyed other aspects of the film and ended up giving the film 3 out of 5:
Not too long at under two hours, Murder on the Orient Express chugs along steadily toward the end-point revelation, which is unlikely to come as an enormous surprise to even the uninitiated, but delivers an added punch new to this version of the film. It’s highly entertaining escapism but it’s all rather forgettable once you disembark. And like Poirot’s moustache, it’s all a bit unnecessary.
Total Film: “Handsomely old-fashioned whodunit”
Games Radar’s Total Film critic Jamie Graham was a fan of the film, loving the changes Branagh made to modernize the movie. He enjoyed how the writer Michael Green had found a way to make the characters relatable, and liked the work of the cast:
A glittery ensemble cast relishes the snow-saturated journey of starring in Sir Ken’s polished, frisky version of Christie’s seminal whodunit. All aboard…
Time Out: “Sporadically entertaining”
Despite the flaws in the film, Time Out’s Anna Smith enjoyed it, giving it a solid three out of five stars:
If it’s all a little too crowded with characters, Branagh’s pacy direction keeps the story zipping along to a conclusion that’s tense even if you remember whodunnit.
So looks like Murder On The Orient Express is a good enough movie folks, just not something to write home about. And although everyone doesn’t seem to be fans of Branagh’s take on the famous Agatha Christie adaptation, with a killer cast like this, it’d be a crime to miss Murder On The Orient Express.
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