• by Wes Singleton

Murder on the Orient Express, B

Rated PG-13, 114 minutes

Featuring handsome photography and an all-star lineup, the new murder mystery "Murder on the Orient Express" introduces new audiences to an old favorite: celebrated crime novelist Agatha Christie, and her famous detective, Hercule Poirot. Slick and well-cast, it's a modestly entertaining whodunit fashioned in classic form, though it's an occasionally uneven, bumpy train ride, with a plodding, talky middle act that may have you looking at your watch a time or two.

A lavish trip through Europe quickly unfolds into a race against time to solve a murder aboard a train. Everyone's a suspect when Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) arrives to interrogate all passengers and search for clues before the killer can strike again.

Just who committed this crime aboard the Orient Express? Was it someone aboard with a clear motive? Was it none of the passengers? Was it all the passengers? This and many other lingering mysteries are answered in the classic, serviceable murder mystery, "Murder on the Orient Express," directed by and starring "Dunkirk's" Kenneth Branagh and written by Michael Green, who's having a good year, having also written "Logan" and "Blade Runner 2049." The well-acted thriller is most memorable for some first-rate, award-worthy production values, including photography, costumes, music and sets.

The diverse, all-star cast performs well in what is an acting showcase, with some showy turns from the likes of Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, "Star Wars" Daisy Ridley, "Hamilton's" Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad and Olivia Colman. Branagh is a strong Poirot (though still not as good as Albert Finney's terrific version in the 1974 film) and is the heart of the film, conveying equal amounts of sleuthing and emotion. Pfeiffer, Ridley and Odom are the most memorable, and without giving away too many spoilers, Depp's role is a supporting one, at best, and Oscar-winner Dench commands much less footage than she usually does.

Most problematic with this "Orient Express" is the slower, talky middle act, which occasionally feels redundant as Poirot conducts his investigation with all the suspects. Branagh could've tightened and sped up the pacing in this section, and it makes it feel longer than necessary. The climax, faithful to Christie's book, is as elaborate as ever, but is satisfyingly handled, though Branagh stages it so obviously and unnaturally (all are sitting courtside, waiting to be interrogated) it feels more like a stage play than film.

Overall, this version has some nice updates, with a diverse, eclectic cast - after all, where else will you find Olaf (Gad) and Queen Victoria (Dench), sharing the same screen - and amidst its flaws there are some enjoyable moments that make it a treat (the scene with Depp and Branagh's character's sharing cake is one of them). The 2017 version of "Murder on the Orient Express" isn't as good as the much more fun 1974 Oscar-winning classic, but it's a solidly entertaining murder mystery, and one that Poirot, and likely Christie herself, would approve of.

#murderontheorientexpress #agathachristie #herculepoirot #kennethbranagh #johnnydepp #michellepfieffer #daisyridley #penelopecruz #judidench #leslieodomjr #willemdafoe #joshgad #derekjacobi #oliviacolman #michaelgreen #patrickdoyle #hariszambarloukos