BEIRUT: In a world full of high-octane and fast-paced films, it’s no wonder that audiences are suffering from franchise fatigue and the whiplash from these films. Thankfully, Murder on the Orient Express gifts its audience a slow, subtle, and suspiciously charming film.
Yet, that’s not to say that the film is without flaws.
After countless representations of the infamous Hercule Poirot, actor and director Kenneth Branagh brings the legendary detective to life once more, with an all-star cast taking on the suspicious characters upon the Orient Express.
The case is simple: a classical murder mystery that takes place on a train on its way to Istanbul when an avalanche stalls the journey as the mystery begins to unfold.
Screenwriter Michael Green uses speedy and smart dialogue while balancing light drama and humor throughout the film.
One of the screenplay’s flaws, however, is a few sequences that seemed to linger too long and didn’t do much to move the plot forward.
Murder on the Orient Express is a film that takes its time to develop, and a pacing such as this may not succeed in the box office.
In the ever-shrinking attention span generation, films of this nature will go unnoticed or disliked due to their pacing or lack of high-octane sequences, and Shonda Rhimes super speed narratives. With the rise of lengthy narratives and binge culture, however, there may be hope yet.
Thematically, the narrative tackles the greyness of humanity, and how no one is ever really purely good or purely evil; and the screenplay does its job by allowing the theme to be quite accessible.
Patrick Doyle’s score is charming, and much like he did in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Doyle adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to the film.
Murder on the Orient Express’s strengths rests in its visuals.
The mise-en-scene and cinematography are breathtaking; it’s clear that both director and cinematographer planned for this.
Seeing as to how the narrative is rather minimalistic, it falls to the visuals and the performances to ensure the audience’s engagement.
Branagh uses multiple long takes, a shot where the camera follows the action without any edits, from conversations where characters are sitting across from each other or walking down the halls of the train while conversing, to allow the audience to focus on the dialogue and characters and not the spectacle.
Speaking of the characters, the all-star cast is made up of Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, Michelle Pfeifer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, and Willem Defoe.
All pretty much embody their characters, but none of the performances are risky or unexpected, and one could say they’re even forgettable.
The actors, all seasoned and some even Oscar nominees, never really shine in their roles and the audience is left only engaging with Poirot and none of the spectrum of characters aboard the Orient Express.
This is the other area where the film suffers.
Due to the narrative’s confined nature, being a period piece that essentially all occurs in one location, the film’s production and execution seemed like an open and shut case. There is only so much one can do with this Agatha Christie who dunnit.
The slow-paced Murder on the Orient Express is a visual treat with fantastic cinematography and a vibrant mise-en-scene. The characters were a missed opportunity and were somewhat forgettable, leaving the overall narrative a bit unsophisticated. Overall the film has a certain charm to it, but won’t be able to stay alive at the box office too long.
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