Murder on the Orient Express is based on the 1934 novel featuring eccentric detective Hercule Poirot played by Kenneth Branagh. Branagh also directed the film based on a script by Michael Green. At the end of that film, there was a tag suggesting Poirot would go to investigate a murder on the Nile in Egypt. That’s where the new film picks up, after a flashback scene about how Poirot got his iconic mustache.
Poirot is at a nightclub with jazz music being performed by Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and this is the setup of a lot of the characters that will be focused on the rest of the film. The star-studded cast includes Gal Gadot, Annette Benning, Tom Bateman, Armie Hammer (who was left out of the marketing campaign for obvious reasons), Emma Mackey, Russell Brand, and Louise Bourget. Through a confluence of events, they all end up on a boat together going down the Nile river.
Branagh has made the character of Hercule Poirot his own. He is irreverent and funny and so charming as the character. His love of sweets is only outmatched by his doggedness as an investigator. He goes right at the potential wrongdoers in the film like nobody on this side of Benoit Blanc (himself influenced by Poirot). Sometimes I wonder, though, if his iconic mustache is more important than his investigative skills. It is something I can’t stop looking at throughout the entire film. It’s crazy because that’s all I see while watching the character.
Michael Green created a great story based on Agatha Christie’s novel. He was able to take these characters in the book and flesh them out. These characters’ backstories were fascinating and the various subplots make for good storytelling. Some of the actors are a bit over the top, namely Armie Hammer, but they are playing their own parts in this interesting murder mystery. Gadot shines on screen like never before and Mackey is a revelation to me. I would love to see what else she’s in in the future.
As the title of the film suggests, it takes place in Egypt. The camera work and cinematography of the film are breathtaking. There are shots of sunrises and the pyramids that are incredible. Haris Zambarloukos worked with Branagh on Belfast, Murder on the Orient Express, and Cinderella (2015). This is the best-looking film of his career. It’s on the level of Roger Deakins and Dan Laustsen. The camera is like a character in the film. It has its own personality and characteristics like a character would have.
Also, the score of the film by Patrick Doyle is incredible as well. It’s on another level. Branagh has assembled an amazing group of people to bring this world of the 1930s to life. The hair and makeup and costume departments are also on par with the best films in recent memory. This film is only hindered by one thing. Its release date has been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If it had come out on a more friendly release date, all these below-the-line departments would be in the consciousness of awards voters.
Where Branagh and company failed in the last film, they succeed in this sequel. The story is much more engaging and the characters have better backstories. The film is a visual marvel as well. Disney bought 20th Century Studios a couple of years ago and inherited this film. Like a lot of the film’s Disney inherited from that studio, they just want to get them out and try to recoup some of their money back. This February slot might be a problem. It’s a good film, so it’ll be sad if it falls to the bad timing of the new release date. Branagh might be able to help his cause, though, because of his other film being in award contention.
3 1/2 stars
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder/EIC disappointment media