Clearly, one of the main things going for the 2017 adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” is its cast. Where do I begin? You’ve got Kenneth Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton’s” Aaron Burr) and Derek Jacobi (who I love on “Vicious” opposite Ian McKellen).
You also got up and coming talent like Ukranian ballet dancer and model Sergei Polunin (watch the video for Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” if you haven’t) and Lucy Boynton who stars in “Sing Street” and next year’s Freddie Mercury film, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The movie takes you back to the mid ‘20s to early ‘30s on train from Istanbul to Calais, where dining cars were so well prepared—with their table cloths, porcelain plates and silverware—and passengers were so well put together—fabulous dresses, gloves, hats and well tailored coats—as hey traveled by rail.
You’ve got a classic story by Agatha Christie and a screenplay by Michael Green who wrote both “Logan” and “Blade Runner 2049” (but then again, also “Green Lantern” and “Alien Covenant”).
The movie does its job: it takes us back to a bygone era and unravels a whodunit but it doesn’t quite fly or particularly hold us in a spell. It’s got this nice old-fashioned feel to it but while it is elegant, it doesn’t have proportionate amount of charm.
There was so much more that could be done with cast—then again maybe having such a large ensemble makes it difficult to go in depth for everyone.
Some would say director Kenneth Branagh was the standout but I thought it was Michelle Pfeiffer’s Caroline Hubbard (Lauren Bacall had this role in the classic 1974 version) who shone in the presence of such luminaries.
Whenever I’d see my friend Johnny Depp as the murder victim Edward Ratchett with his dark, slicked back hair and mustache, I’d laugh a bit and go “Oh my god, it’s Erap Estrada.”
Now, if you want to see the charm and comedic side of this cast, just watch the Graham Norton interview. Graham asked the cast about their characters while gathered in one of the cars of the train. Trying to look at each other with suspicion, Josh Gad gave an expression that seemed to be asking, “Who farted?”
On a more serious note, the film does touch on questions regarding the meaning of justice as viewed by laws, society and religion and as viewed by the wronged. It also touches on the moral dilemma of “false righteousness.”
Should this film generate enough interest, Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” ends with a lead into “Death on the Nile” which he hopes to do next.