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Murder on the Orient Express

A master detective is flummoxed by a killing on a luxury train

     Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh: Dunkirk) has made a career out of the miniscule. He notices all and discounts nothing. Details that would seem unimportant to even trained investigators help Poirot solve criminal cases all around the world.
     The problem?
     Poirot cannot turn off this insight. He’s hounded by minutia — if one thing is even slightly askew in his surroundings, Poirot’s day is ruined. His persnickety nature makes the world’s greatest detective also the world’s greatest neurotic. 
     To calm himself after a particularly taxing case, Poirot takes a vacation. When he is called back to duty, he boards the Orient Express — a train famous for its lavish accommodations. He mixes with an odd assortment of the upper echelons, from a Russian princess (Judi Dench: Victoria & Abdul) to an Austrian eugenics expert (Willem Dafoe: The Florida Project).
     One of the passengers, nefarious art dealer Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), attempts to hire him for protection, but Poirot refuses. He only works for those he respects, and there’s something shifty about Ratchett. 
     When a fluke avalanche strands the train in the mountains, Ratchett is found dead in his cabin. Trapped on rickety tracks with a murderer, Poirot must now examine all his fellow passengers to determine who killed Ratchett and why. 
     Can Poirot keep another murder from happening? Or has his talent for crime solving finally been derailed? 
     A charmingly old-fashioned whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express is a lush adaptation of Agatha Christie’s greatest work. Branagh, who pulls double duty as director, offers a rather staid staging of the mystery. His camera work is basic, and often it feels as if he is simply filming a stage production. 
     His theater background is also evident in his performance. Branagh often acts for the back rows, with large emotions and line readings that work better in auditoriums than in the more intimate medium of film. His Belgian accent is also either a stroke of comic genius or a distracting miscalculation. 
     Another problem with the production is its large cast. While a necessity to give the audience and Poirot plenty of suspects to scrutinize, the cast is too large. As a result many of the actors are forced into thankless roles that offer little in the way of development. 
     A few standouts in the overcrowded cast include Michelle Pfeiffer (Mother!) and Leslie Odom Jr. (The Good Wife). Pfeiffer, who has begun a bit of a comeback of late, plays a flighty socialite to perfection. She breezes through her lines, looking effortlessly chic and hiding a glint of intelligence as she flirts her way through every interaction. Odom Jr. as an upstanding doctor is brilliant at conveying a large range of emotion with just a few glances.
     While far from perfect, Murder on the Orient Express does offer a nostalgic charm that is hard to resist. With lavish costumes, a classic storyline and a handful of fun performances, this is a great movie for those who long for a return to vintage ensemble mysteries of the late ’70s. 
Fair Mystery • PG-13 • 115 mins.