This 2017 American mystery drama is directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. Branagh also stars as Detective Hercule Poirot alongside an ensemble cast of Tom Bateman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley.
Famed Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is called to London to help on a case, and so must take the luxurious Orient Express steam train from Istanbul to France. With the help of his friend Bouc (Bateman) who directs the train, Poirot is looking forward to a few day rest.
While on the train he meets a number of passengers including American socialite Caroline Hubbard (Pfeiffer), Austrian Professor Gerhard (Dafoe), British Governess Mary Debenham (Ridley) and wealthy American art dealer Samuel Ratchett (Depp).
When a landslide halts the train, the passengers awake to find Ratchett murdered; stabbed to death in his sleep. Bouc convinces Poirot he is the only one who can solve the crime before they reach their destination. But as the investigation begins, all the passengers reveal many hidden secrets that will test the Belgian sleuth more than ever in identifying the killer...
With 3 adaptations on the big and small screen already (this being the 4th) and the famous novel in circulation since 1934, you’d have to have been living under a rock or have no taste for quality crime narratives to miss this classic who-dunnnit. I myself will admit to being a bit of the former - ignoring the story and never being interested in reading or seeing it. However, I’m glad this big screen adaptation came along with a stellar cast to rope me in, for now I DO know who did it, and I really loved the journey getting there.
It will be hard for people who have read the story or seen the adaptations to now take another slant on the classic story. There is little Sir Kenneth Branagh as actor and director could add without it being faithful to the source material and keep it fresh. If he did, he would have come under criticism. It seems also there is criticism for NOT adding anything new, so he was never going to win, which is a shame.
So for people like me who are coming into this totally devoid of knowledge about the story or outcome, it was rewarding in all sorts of ways and wonderfully brought to life.
The main appeal is the cast. A great mix of international talent ranging from Brits Branagh, Dench and Ridley, to Americans Depp, Gad and Dafoe and even Russian dancer Polunin and Mexican Garcia-Rulfo. All very gifted actors of their generation and bring a real range of personalities to the culprits.
Of course with so much star talent and so many characters, not everyone gets the chance to steal the limelight. Many actors like Cruz, Jacobi, Kenzari and Dafoe play second fiddle to the more “meaty” head-liners who give us most of the narrative. Depp is our victim, as we all know there is a murder, so it’s not exactly a spoiler to say this. He is sly, shady and serious; a far (welcome) cry to his usual silly characters like Willy Wonka or Jack Sparrow. Here he makes it easy to see why somebody wants him dead and how dangerous a man he can be.
Everyone gets their moment however to convey who and why they are they way they are, and I was guessing to the end at the outcome. I thought I had it snagged, but I didn’t, and then I thought I knew the culprit, but I didn’t. A few twists in the plot were a nice little finishing touch, all from the mind of the late great Agatha Christie.
As well our stars leading the story in a 5 carriage train where the action rarely diverts from, the look of the film is beautiful. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos gives us some brilliantly smooth, crisp shots. High and low angle takes. One-take shots that wind around and inside the magnificent steam train, to takes that track and pan around the passengers within. It’s seamless and glorious, and plays out like one big brilliant choreographed play. And also this is complimented by the chilly surroundings of crisp white snow, purple hazy skies and warm lush interiors. It’s a real wintery feeling film, and a perfect Sunday afternoon and late evening viewing.
I also enjoyed the change of pace. No modern touches or gimmicks this time. It sticks to the 1930s era with faithful costume, sets and even soundtrack. No need for mobile phones, data sticks and laptops here - no. Just characters and their relationships and good old fashioned detective work with fingerprints, hidden clues and deceptive lies. Hardly any violence, no sex and no swearing that I could hear - of course it will not suit those used to the loud modern day big-bang for your buck blockbusters. Let them keep those.
For me this is a classic piece of literature brought to life for a new generation with an equally new and old generation of star talent. It’s faithful to the material and is carefully crafted to entice you into the era and story which had me hooked right to the end. I just hope the film has enough success to give Branagh the drive to make the brilliantly teased ‘Death On The Nile’ sequel, because I’ll be there!