As a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, I’m looking forward to viewing the latest version of one of her greatest murder mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express. Everything about this adaptation looks amazing.
The cinematography and set pieces look spectacular. I don’t think we’ve had a period piece look this stylish since The Great Gatsby or exude this much panache since The Grand Budapest Hotel. The director is the man who gave us the first Thor movie and about half of every Shakespeare movie you watched in English class, including Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V, to name a few. Also, the cast is impressive.
The number of A-list actors in this adaptation is astonishing: Willem Dafoe, who most of us know as The Green Goblin from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and who will hopefully one day play The Joker. Michelle Pfeiffer, who is still the best actress to ever play Catwoman. Judi Dench, who played M in the recent James Bond films. Josh Gad, who played LeFou in the recent Beauty and the Beast. Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman and many others — all suspects in a murder that takes place in a snowed-in train during the 1930s.
This theatrical version isn’t the first time that an all-star cast had been assembled to tell this tale. The 1974 version also boasted a cast of some of the finest actors of its day, even in supporting roles: Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Lloyd, just to name a few. Albert Finney (1970s version of Scrooge), played the detective in that version.
In this version, director Kenneth Branagh plays the world-famous detective: Hercule Poirot. While he’s a capable actor, having performed in Shakespeare plays and often starring in the films he’s directed, I’m not yet sold on him playing the lead. The short Belgian detective is usually described as not being more than 5′ 4” with a head shaped like an egg, has black hair and is usually depicted as balding. And then there’s the mustache. Well, suffice it to say that Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation looks nothing like the Albert Finney version, or the version on television portrayed by David Suchet, whose portrayal I believe to be spot-on. But I suppose that Branagh wanted to differentiate himself from the most recent incarnation.
The character incarnation I’m perhaps most looking forward to seeing is the one played by Johnny Depp, who ostensibly plays the antagonist. While he usually plays quirky characters in Tim Burton’s films or runs around in pirate garb as Jack Sparrow — sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow — every now and again, Depp gets to flex his dramatic acting chops. While I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (you can read my retrospective here), his 2015 portrayal of Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reminded me and all the critics out there that Johnny Depp is still a strong dramatic actor. If the gangster he plays in Murder on the Orient Express is anything close to the gangster he played in Black Mass, we should have a character that’s both suave and slimy, and someone we all want dead.
For those like me who’ve read and re-read the book or watched the other incarnations, the whodunit is elementary. But we’re watching not for the reveal, but for the execution… of the material. While most early feedback from moviegoers and critics of this film have been positive, I’ve read some critics who’ve written that another film adaption is unnecessary. That’s like saying that we should never have another Romeo and Juliet movie because we all already know how it ends. Shakespeare was the master of plays and we should welcome each new adaptation of his work; Agatha Christie was the “Queen of Crime” and novelizations of her work should always be welcomed in new incarnations. We may have gotten a great version of this mystery 43 years ago, but if we’ve got three different adaptations of Spider-Man in the last decade and a half, I’m down to give a new version of Hercule Poirot a shot.
Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express looks visually stunning and the cast looks fantastic, now we’ll have to watch to find out if it’s as equally intriguing.