Murder on the Orient Express: Branagh’s 1974 Remake Makes its Own Name

Remakes and adaptations are in now more than ever. And while most seem unoriginal and for a money grab, some shine through. Kenneth Branagh’s, Murder on the Orient Express, breaks through the mold, and creates a name for itself even apart from the famous Agatha Christie novel, or the critically acclaimed Sidney Lumet film back in 1974.

What makes Murder so distinctive from narratives like it, is the man at the helm. Branagh (Cinderella), who not only directs, but stars in Murder, is a rare bird in Hollywood. While most people who work in the industry garner their inspiration from films preceding their careers, Branagh’s inspiration stems from something more Elizabethan. Branagh got his start not on the silver screen, nor behind the camera, but rather on the stage. He is a student of Shakespeare, boasting directing, acting, and writing credits for renowned plays like “Henry V,” “Hamlet,” and “Twelfth Night.” This is imperative to his cinematic directing and acting style, as his technique varies from those who strictly have a background in film.

Branagh’s directorial technique is fun and extravagant. He uses unbalanced and long tracking shots to maintain the level of suspense and curiosity for his audience. I particularly relished in a long aerial take that followed Branagh’s character, the famed Belgian detective, as he analyzes the dead body found on board for the first time. This not only made me anxious, but it was a way for the director to show the audience the whole room, and let them make conclusions for themselves on who committed the crime. This is just one example of the intentionality of Branagh’s technique. He also used the final four existing 65mm Panavision cameras in the world. What does that mean to the audience? It means that there is a more vibrant display of visuals that truly immerses the audience into the captivating murder mystery they are about to watch.

Another impressive area for this film was in its ensemble. Murder boasted a strong cast of all supporting actors who complemented each other quite well. No one actor outshined the other, although two actors did stand out to me. The first is Josh Gad (Marshall), who continues to impress, and seems to be slowly working on establishing himself as a prestigious actor. The second is a veteran on the big screen: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean). What I liked about Depp’s performance is that he was able to shrink back into a supporting role. His days of being a lead actor are long gone, or at least less frequent, as he must learn to adapt with the incoming generation of actors. Those two actors aside, everyone else did a marvelous job of working together to bring the audience a genuine piece of art.

No film, regardless of how well directed or casted it is, would hold the same status without a well-orchestrated story behind it. The thing I liked best about this film, is that it unfolded like a play. Movies like Dogville, The Hateful Eight, and Locke are some of my favorite films, not because they rely on crazy action or cool locations; rather, they depend on the characters and words they speak. Murder does just that, as we learn more and more about the characters the longer they are cooped up, forced to interact with each other.

And while Murder does maintain a fluid story without plot holes, there are a few things that could be improved upon. The first is the way they implemented the cornerstone plot device. The murder is directly linked to something that does not occur on the train, and while they do a decent job of filling the audience in as they go, I wish they had found a better way to do it. Not only are we as the audience trying to fill in the blanks of the murder, but we are also trying to get caught up on a story we know nothing about. The ending also bugged me a little bit, as I would have like it to be more centered around happenstance, rather than conspiracy.

Should you see this movie? My answer would be a resounding yes. Murder on the Orient Express does a fantastic job at keeping you engaged through suspense that comes both from its masterful direction and decent script. While not a perfect film, it is definitely an entertaining one.

7.5 of 10

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