Hurrah! Hercule Poirot has revived! He has sprung back to life thanks to the multitalented Kenneth Branagh! The previous film starring Poirot debuted in 1989 (End House Mystery)… it was a matter of time before a modernized Agatha Christie mystery returned to the big screen. Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, tackling this revival, was delightful to the eye, but lacked crucial substance and fluidity.
Being a great fan of Kenneth Branagh myself (especially of his amazing performance as Hamlet in the 1996 Hamlet), I enjoyed his performance a great deal. However, his forced Belgian accent occasionally sounded unnatural and artificial (perhaps a problem many fans face when seeing an esteemed actor take on a new role). Branagh had big shoes to fill, but he played well with Poirot’s traditional traits, while also bringing a new and unique twist to the role. There was a certain air of innocence in his performance, which seemed to revive the naiveté present in early cinema.
The film was enjoyable and entertaining, but nothing more. It lacked significant structure and unity. It had the potential to become a great adaptation, if only more focus was placed on the interesting characters and their relationship to each other, rather than on the murder itself. This fault is perhaps a result of the source material. There was such a potential for character development–all having different personalities, a unique story, a purpose, a trait… Instead, the character development felt cold and impersonal, which in turn, made the story feel shallow. Furthermore, the directing seemed self-indulgent and unoriginal–stripped from any kind of creativity. The ending felt brusque and laughable, instead of having the weight that it needed.
That being said, the art direction and cinematography were magnificent. The costumes were well chosen, the sets were colourful and lavish, the snow gave an air of magic and beauty. The look of the film was luxurious and indulgent.
The film was eye-candy. And just like candy; it is pleasurable in the moment, but contains no vital substance (or depth). You will not be challenged or surprised, but you might be entertained! I certainly do not regret seeing it in theatres.