Murder on the Orient Express (5.5 out of 10)
"My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world."
I've never been a huge fan of large parties. It's not that they can't be a lot of fun sometimes, with various fun games being played, swimming in a pool, lounging in a hot tub, good food and drinks, etc. The main reason is that there are just too many people, and if I don't know any of them ahead of time, it makes things pretty overwhelming for me. Sure, I may end up having a couple decent and slightly more in-depth conversations, but for the most part I never really get to know a lot of the people there, and it's easy to end up feeling pretty isolated and alone, despite being surrounded by dozens of people. When it comes to films, it can be a similar challenge when you have a script featuring many characters (played by a who's-who list of A-list actors) who each need to be presented with a backstory and given some screen-time, and all done within about a two hour movie. It can be a bit overwhelming to try and bring so many characters into a film, flesh them out and make them compelling enough so the audience can be more fully drawn into the story.
So when I went to see Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel "Murder on the Orient Express," I had in the back of my mind that this would ultimately feel like one of the many large parties I've been to, where a smorgasbord of characters are presented, but there's not enough time to make them interesting or compelling enough to really care about them or the narrative. Unfortunately, that's more or less how it played out. While the film is well acted, and the production values and cinematography are top notch and make for a film very easy on the eyes, Orient Express gave itself too much to handle in terms of number of characters and character development. The one with the most screen-time is Branagh's own Hercule Poirot. Featuring a large dose of eccentricity, a ridiculously large mustache, and a thick French accent that makes him hard to understand at times, particularly early on, Branagh tries his darnedest to make Poirot a compelling protagonist as the self-proclaimed "greatest detective in the world," hired to find out who killed a patron on the train (played by Johnny Depp). For the majority of the film, Poirot is thus left to interview each of the guests on the train to try to figure out who the murderer is. While they are all given a fairly equal amount of screentime, there are just too many to try to flesh out, and that's despite a cast featuring Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Penelope Cruz. With all that talent, they can only do so much with the script to make each character compelling, but it's clear the film was overloaded with too many players. By the end, I didn't really care who the actual murderer was (which is revealed in a plot twist that comes off as more unintentionally funny than satisfying in any way).
Sometimes films can bring a large cast of A-list actors together and create an effective story with well-fleshed out characters. But for many films, such as this one, they are better off sticking to the old adage "less is more." While I'm sure the novel (which I haven't read) spent much more time exploring the different characters and making them more interesting, Express just doesn't have the time nor the ability to effectively tell this ensemble murder mystery. Feeling like a large party where you leave not really knowing or caring much about the people there, and thus feeling empty in the end, Murder on the Orient Express rates as a 5.5 out of 10.
- Ryan Zeid