The Johnny Depp Archive

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer PenÚlope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

So here's a thing: until yesterday, I had never seen an Agatha Christie film in the cinema.

During the '80s and '90s, the Queen of Crime ruled the TV schedules: Sunday night, Christmas Day, weekend afternoons – all belonged to Marple and Poirot, be that gentle Joan Hickson, bustling Angela Lansbury, buffoonish Peter Ustinov, grumpy Albert Finney or, the Poirot to rule them all, David Suchet.

Who would dare revive in a oner not just the whodunnit in the cinema, but also the A-list ensemble movie – and step boldly into the highly polished shoes of the world's most famous Belgian (sorry, Jean Claude Van Damme...)?

Arise Sir Kenneth of Branagh, thespian, director, friend to the stars – if anyone can pull it off, he can.

But does he?

Er... sort of.

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express

The cast scintillates with stars (including of course one Mr Johnny Depp, looking, for the first time in a movie, actually like a man in his mid-fifties, and carrying the role of villain valiantly, as if demanding boos and hisses for his performance, if not the recent débâcle that is his personal life). The whole film exudes gorgeous period sumptuousness, from the exotic, glamorous locations to the deluxe costumes. The plot is, well the plot of Murder on the Orient Express, so it probably wouldn't be a spoiler if I relayed it word for word (someone's murdered; Poirot must work out whodunnit – do keep up) and the script is, well, maybe a bit ploddy (especially if you do already know whodunnit), but generally keeps things moving forward (unlike the train, which is derailed in a snowdrift, stalled like Poirot's investigation).

Johnny Depp as Ratchett in Murder on the Orient Express

But in the end, the whole thing rides on Branagh's interpretation of Poirot, and if you can't be doing with that, you won't be doing with the movie either.

Kudos to Sir Ken, therefore, for trying to do something a bit different (even if this does involve sporting a very weird-looking double moustache that makes him look like a particularly well-groomed walrus). Unlike Suchet's fastidious and unassuming sleuth, who uses a deep and compassionate understanding of human nature to aid his little grey cells in the tricky business of detection, Branagh's Poirot is much more of a diva. Far from being a 'little detective', he dominates his surroundings, hyper aware of his reputation both as a brilliant sleuth and as a fussy pain in the backside. Like Sherlock Holmes (particularly when played by Benedict Cumberbatch), he is portrayed as almost sociopathic in his attention to detail, his detection skills springing from a keen, perfectionist observation of what is right and what is wrong. Everything for Branagh's Poirot must be neatly black or white, with no allowances made for all the messy shades of grey in between (except those in his 'tache and brain cells, presumably).

But life is not black and white, as Poirot discovers as he investigates the death of a deeply unpopular criminal (Depp) on the luxury train, meaning that this Murder on the Orient Express is as much (if not more) about Poirot's journey of understanding as it is about whodunnit (which we all know anyway).

Olivia Coleman and Judi Dench in Murder on the Orient Express

Worth seeing? I'd say yes, if only to star-spot and revel in the flamboyantly stylish costumes and sets while feeling glad you're not rich and stuck on a train with a bunch of crazy actors all desperate to grab their moment in the limelight before Branagh steamrolls over them.

As Poirot is wearily escorted from the steaming train at the end of the film, a sequel clearly beckons. There's been – you guessed it – a death on the Nile. Would I climb aboard a second Branagh Poirot excursion? Mais oui, mes amis...

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