Last night I had the pleasure of attending the ‘official’ opening of Brisbane’s Elizabeth Picture Theatre, which showcased Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. It was a clever film choice (and not just because it’s Movember). Orient Express showcases the same old Hollywood, stars-as-living-myth impulses the new theatre celebrates; the same impulses that led Sidney Lumet, in 1974, to stock his cast with Hollywood legends.
Branagh follows in Lumet’s footsteps in that regard, even if the wattage has dulled a tad (excepting Michelle Pfeiffer, naturally). He also eschews the restrained classicism of Lumet’s (rather pedestrian) approach by jazzing things up with a sense of fun. Branagh keeps things entertaining with a bevy of broad jokes (often granted to himself as detective Hercule Poirot), extravagantly playful camera angles (now the camera’s a snowflake! Now, look, The Last Supper!) and oddly clumsy editing.
That sense of fun evaporates, however, as the film leans into its investigation and (in)famous twist. This is a story that invites silliness, not seriousness, and Branagh’s sunset-hued finale is so much the latter that it becomes the former. While the film remains entertaining, if forgettable, I would’ve preferred the Non-Stop–but-on-a-train it (briefly) promises to be.