Branagh's 'Murder on the Orient Express' is more playful than frightful

Kenneth Branagh stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Twentieth Century Fox)

"Murder on the Orient Express"
3.5 out of 5 stars
Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green (screenplay), Agatha Christie (novel)
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Crime, mystery
Rated: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements

Synopsis: Famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) investigates the mysterious death of an art dealer while traveling on the Orient Express.

Review: Based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a pulpy delight that is more fun than it is actually mysterious. It isn’t quite the Oscar fare that you might expect, particularly considering the cast includes Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe, but that shouldn’t necessarily be read as a fatal flaw as the film still manages to entertain.

Originally published in 1934, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a nostalgic experience that recalls a time when murder mysteries weren’t nearly as gruesome and forensic science wasn’t remotely what it is today. It features the famous detective Hercule Poirot, a man who solves crimes through observation and wit, and a train’s worth of suspects who may or may not be exactly who they claim to be.

I enjoyed watching the various performances in the film, but I never felt any sort of connection to any of the characters. Particularly when it came to Branagh’s Poirot. Yes, there is more to the man that a silly mustache, but don’t expect to ever feel like you’re his equal or even his partner as he collects clues. He reveals all his discoveries in a rather lengthy monologue toward the end of the film, but the actual process of deduction is absent from most of the film.

Like many characters and stories written in a different time, “Murder on the Orient Express” is an opportunity to visit a more idealized era (not that the realities of that era were nearly as genteel). It’s a very good film, maybe a little too pleasant for its own good, but that’s the way it was written and to try and update the material for modern times would abandon what audiences have loved about Christie’s work.

I don’t see “Murder on the Orient Express” being a big player at the upcoming Academy Awards, but I do suspect that those who go see it will enjoy it all the same.

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