Main cast: Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Penélope Cruz (Pilar Estravados), Willem Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman), Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff), Johnny Depp (Samuel Ratchett), Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen), Derek Jacobi (Edward Henry Masterman), Leslie Odom Jr (Dr Arbuthnot), Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard), Daisy Ridley (Mary Debenham), Tom Bateman (Bouc), Olivia Colman (Hildegarde Schmidt), Lucy Boynton (Countess Helena Andrenyi), Marwan Kenzari (Pierre Michel), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Biniamino Marquez), Sergei Polunin (Count Rudolph Andrenyi), and Miranda Raison (Sonia Armstrong)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot has been brought to screens big and small with varying success, but here, in Murder on the Orient Express, we have a great example of how not to portray that character. Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of him is an incessant parade of exaggerated tics layered by a suffocating carpet of smugness that I actually find myself rooting for this Poirot to fail, even when I know that, of course, he will not.
Basically, Poirot is hoping to have a vacation in Istanbul after solving a mystery of a missing relic in Jerusalem, but alas, he is summoned back to London for another case. He is offered a free room on the Orient Express by his womanizing friend Bouc. I say “womanizing friend” because that’s all there is to that poor man’s character. On the train, he meets the shady arts dealer Samuel Ratchett. Ratchett is clearly in trouble, having sold some counterfeit works to gangsters in Europe, and for some reason he thinks paying a tic-ridden cranky middle-aged man to be his bodyguard is a good idea. Poirot refuses, of course, and then Ratchett gets murdered. How lucky that Poirot is around to solve this mystery!
There is no shortage of suspects. There is the governess Mary Debenhem, whom Poirot accidentally eavesdropped earlier making some suspicious conversations with Dr Arbuthnot despite both claiming never to have met the other person prior to coming onboard the train. Caroline Hubbard is clearly on the prowl for a new husband to finance her extravagant lifestyle. Count Rudolph Andrenyi has a violent temper, and who knows what is up with his always sickly wife. Gerhard Hardman is a professor that dislikes anyone who isn’t of his own race and nationality, while the haughty Princess Dragomiroff doesn’t seem to like anyone much and bullies her companion Hildegarde Schmidt. There’s Ratchett’s secretary Hector MacQueen as well as the dead man’s valet Masterman – surely it can’t be fun to work for that man. There are a few more, but frankly, Kenneth Branagh has assembled a cast of folks to act as props for him to mug around like a circus monkey.
And yikes, his version of Poirot! In addition to being unlikable and smarmy, with an accent that seems to come and go, Mr Branagh’s Poirot is also portrayed not as a good investigator but an obnoxious bantam rooster who solves mysteries by somehow being unerringly accurate in flinging out his various theories. In the book, I get a good understanding of how Poirot pieces things together by taking careful note of what the people around him say or do, among other things. Here, this Poirot is hardly shown to be doing any investigating – he’s too busy pontificating, telling everyone how he is always right, and solves the mysteries by pulling out theories and accusations out of his ass. The other characters in this movie are one-dimensional props for Mr Branagh to strut and crow to. Therefore, we have director who managed to get together a bunch of people to finance his vainglorious desire to mug for the camera. It’s almost awesome, if I hadn’t paid money to sit through almost two hours of this clown school reject version of Hercule Poirot.
On the bright side, this is one gorgeous movie. The scenery is breathtaking and I almost wish I was part of that train ride. Almost, that is. This is a movie with Johnny Depp, and yet Kenneth Branagh can still somehow come out as the most insufferable attention hog in the whole film. If I were on that train, I’d have thrown his Poirot out of a window before the one hour mark.