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Review - 'Murder on the Orient Express'

Review - 'Murder on the Orient Express'

Old-fashioned mystery films are hard to come by these days, especially ones with larger budgets. I might be wrong, but the last mainstream mysteries I can think of are the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes movies, and even those were more focused on the action than the mystery itself. Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express is as traditional a mystery film as they come, and while that sometimes restrains it from breaking the mold, there is fun to be had here. 

The film follows Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) as he takes a train from Istanbul to London. During this trip, the train is afflicted by an avalanche and marooned on the tracks. During this time, one of the crew members is mysteriously murdered. Poirot reluctantly takes on the case, and must find the culprit before the train is able to reach the station. 

Murder on the Orient Express was always going to be a film that lived or died by its cast. Luckily, Kenneth Branagh has stacked this train to the rafters with respectable names. Branagh himself plays the famed obsessive-compulsive detective, Hercule Poirot. His performance is mildly over-the-top, but I found him to be an enjoyable presence and I could tell this was a role that he was fully committed to. Apart from Branagh, most of the cast of characters don't get too much screen time, and that's because there's just so many of them. That said, most of these characters get two or three big moments, which save them from being forgettable.

The more significant performances that made a bigger impression on me came from Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer and surprisingly, Johnny Depp, even though his screen time might actually be the smallest of the group. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench and Josh Gad also get a handful of memorable moments. Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi and Leslie Odom Jr. have decent parts, but I found their characters to be insignificant and not quite as interesting,

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The story in Murder on the Orient Express is what it is. I don't say this to diminish Agatha Christie's work, I just don't think anything that happens in the film is going to surprise anyone who is a fan of her work. This is a very comfortable and pleasant movie that tries to create tension and build intrigue, but never fully succeeds, but it is a fun place to hang out in for a couple of hours. When I left the theater, I had no lingering thoughts about the big mystery laid out in the film, but I did leave with the feeling that I had been transported to another time, surrounded by interesting characters, and I was satisfied by that. 

The pacing is also just right. In lesser hands, this film could have been a total bore. Luckily, Kenneth Branagh knows how to keep an audience engaged whether it be by well-written dialogue or quick bursts of action. There is a caveat, though. Yes, the film is never boring, but there really aren't any great stand-out moments in the film either. I can't think of one scene was exceptional. The whole movie is the definition of competent and not much more.

Though the story didn't light my world on fire, its visuals did. This is a beautifully shot film, and every scene looks like it was planned out with great care by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. I also thought the score by Patrick Doyle suited the film perfectly, even if it wasn't particularly memorable. 

Murder on the Orient Express is film that retells a classic mystery faithfully, but never really goes out of its wheelhouse to give audiences something new and unique. That said, the feeling this film evokes is a contagiously pleasant one that made me feel warm and at-home.  Overall, It's a good movie for the holidays that is likely to please the whole family, but it won't leave much of a lasting impression. 

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