Oscar-winner Kenneth Branagh’s updated takes on Agatha Christie’s classics continue to entertain and puzzle audiences and critics. His latest effort, A Haunting in Venice, loosely based on Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, premiered in mid-September to positive reviews and decent box office, proving, against all odds, that there’s still life in this unexpected franchise.
Branagh’s Poirot-verse began in 2017 with Murder on the Orient Express, a flashy, star-studded adaptation of Christie’s eponymous novel. Murder is not the strongest of Branagh’s Poirot movies – that honor goes to the spooky A Haunting in Venice; however, it’s not the worst either, with 2022’s Death on the Nile taking that bullet. Instead, it sits comfortably in the middle, never reaching greatness but far from outright mediocrity. In fact, Murder on the Orient Express is a rather entertaining movie, providing more than enough thrills and twists to satisfy audiences. The film is now on Hulu, making it the perfect opportunity for fans to either see it for the first time or rewatch it and immerse themselves in its clever and stylish world of mystery and deceit.
Murder on the Orient Express‘ main appeal is the stellar, all-star cast. Led by Branagh as the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot, the film features a who’s who of Oscar winners and nominees, including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Although the film doesn’t do much with each character beyond establishing them as suspects, some actors elevate their roles through sheer talent. Cruz is a standout as the secretive Pilar Estravados, while Dafoe brings his unique charm to the twisting role of Gerhard Hardman. However, it’s the mighty Michelle Pfeiffer as the tragic widow Caroline Hubbard who steals the film. Her role is pivotal to the story, and Pfeiffer effortlessly commands the screen, selling the character’s initial frisky allure before her tragic backstory is revealed. Murder on the Orient Express could do more with its impressive cast, but what it does is enough to sell the mystery and confirm these performers as some of the all-time greats.
Unlike other murder-mystery movies, Murder on the Orient Express has a sad and surprisingly emotional story at its core. Without any spoilers, the film features a complex mystery that slowly unravels, forcing Poirot to struggle with his morality and sense of justice. In the end, even he admits not everything is black and white and, sometimes, justice must be served, one way or the other.
Murder on the Orient Express‘ third act is its strongest aspect. Elevated by the stellar cast’s work and benefitting from Christie’s groundbreaking text, the film offers a refreshing take on the murder mystery. The dead remain dead, and the lives destroyed cannot be restored, but there is at least some semblance of justice, even if it came too late. Those looking for a perfect ending will not find it here, but those who enjoy some twists in their mysteries will be satisfied.
If there’s one aspect of Murder on the Orient Express that undoubtedly shines, it’s the stunning production values. From the sumptuous gowns to the handsomely staged train where the action happens, Murder on the Orient Express features spectacular staging that makes it a visual treat.
The film’s costumes, hair, and makeup are all top-notch, with Pfeiffer, Dench, and Lucy Boynton benefitting the most. The film’s production design is also noteworthy, doing the most with its limited setting and successfully creating a mini world within the confinement of the train. The early scenes in Istanbul are equally captivating, albeit too short, but everything inside the train is just as vivid and dynamic, a testament to the film’s behind-the-scenes talent.
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