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Murder on the Orient Express

Although the works of mystery writer Agatha Christie have been adapted for TV for decades, movie versions of her books have been rare. The latest version of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is the first English language film based on her books for over twenty years. Maybe her novels are more suited for the small screen even if several Christie films in the 70’s and 80’s proved popular. ‘Orient Express’ may rectify that with its sumptuous cast having a grand time figuring out whodunit.

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is looking forward to a relaxing journey on the famed Orient Express train. Filled with guests including Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) and Mrs Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), the esteemed company enjoys the ride. Unfortunately their trip is rudely interrupted when one of the passengers is killed. Tasked with finding the culprit, Poirot questions each guest before time runs out with the train’s final destination leading to murder.

Calling ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ old-fashioned isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whilst occasionally creaking under its genteel antiquity, it commands attention due to a great cast. Each has their moment to shine and seem to enjoy partaking in Christie’s murderous parlour game. Branagh, Dench and others are at the top of their game with well-rounded performances. Letting them down are leaden pacing and the lack of genuine thrills that make Christie’s books great reading.

Although initial scenes in Malta are full of nice humour and action, once the train stops and the murder occurs the momentum halts. What follows is a series of interviews with suspects that gradually bores more than excite. Branagh does what he can as director, as well as actor, to keep things moving and his technical skills are superb. It’s that the screenplay suffers from lack of genuine movement – it needed more life to make it memorable. The cinematography does what it can to compensate and successfully provides the glossy colour crucial in building the overall 1930’s atmosphere.

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is a generally fine adaptation of one of Christie’s most famous works. Despite not really grabbing attention as it should, the cast and direction do their best to jazz up a rather static script. It will be interesting seeing if this is a hit with modern audiences with a gap between further Christie movies hopefully not as long.

Rating out of 10: 7

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