Kenneth Branagh nicely does double duty in “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Kenneth Branagh nicely does double duty in “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Orient Express’ a bright, old-fashioned ride

In the new “Murder on the Orient Express,” Agatha Christie’s beloved Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) can be seen thoroughly enjoying a Charles Dickens novel before he’s interrupted with the nasty business of a murder.

It’s appropriate. Branagh is as classical as any director working today, able to dip into literary treasures ranging from Shakespeare and Mary Shelley to Cinderella and Thor, and bringing freshness and energy to all.

He’s also one of the best actor-directors working today, and his wearing of two hats on “Murder on the Orient Express” recalls his exuberant work on “Henry V” (1989) and “Hamlet” (1996), as well as on the nifty little crime film that was his sophomore effort, “Dead Again” (1991).

The only other big-screen “Murder on the Orient Express” — directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 — featured Albert Finney as a finicky Poirot. Branagh, with his world-class mustache, easily equals him here.

This Poirot is painfully aware of his shortcomings, of how ill-fit he is to mingle with others. When alone, he sometimes tragically consults a photo of a lost love.

He’s exhausted, and after solving a crime in Jerusalem (involving a priest, a rabbi and an imam), he wants nothing more than a vacation.

Unfortunately, he is called back to London and must board the Orient Express. There, he meets a sinister, scar-faced “businessman,” Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who claims he is in danger and asks for Poirot’s protection. Poirot declines.

Next thing, Ratchett is dead, murdered, and the train is full of suspects: Ratchett’s secretary (Josh Gad), his valet (Derek Jacobi), a society lady (Michelle Pfeiffer), a princess (Judi Dench), a professor (Willem Dafoe), a governess (Daisy Ridley), a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), and a missionary (Penelope Cruz) among them.

Like Lumet, Branagh, attempting to get behind human aspects of this crime, is not overly focused on suspense or thrills.

The skillful camerawork does not use cramped, limited setting to build claustrophobia or paranoia. Rather, his camera glides alongside the train and peers through windows, or floats overhead, giving actors room to move in the corridors.

The movie even finds wide, establishing shots to assemble the suspects into a single, inseparable group. The striking denouncement scene takes place at the mouth of a train tunnel lit by flaming torches.

Mostly, the bright, fluid, elegant “Murder on the Orient Express” seems refreshingly smart and old-fashioned, like an export from the old studio days of Hollywood.

Even the screenwriter, Michael Green, has proven adept at brushing off and freshening up old characters, as he did in this year’s “Logan” and “Blade Runner 2049.”

While those with short attention spans may find “Murder on the Orient Express” irrelevant, for the rest of us, it’s a fine, diverting entertainment in all the best ways.

REVIEW
Murder on the Orient Express
Three stars
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer
Written by Michael Green
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour, 54 minutesAgatha ChristieHercule PoirotKenneth BranaghMovies and TVMurder on the Orient Express

Just Posted

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

Pregnant women are in the high-risk category currently prioritized for booster shots in San Francisco. (Unai Huizi/Shutterstock)
What pregnant women need to know about COVID and booster shots

Inoculations for immunosuppressed individuals are recommended in the second trimester

Examiner reporter Ben Schneider drives an Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle along Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Could San Francisco’s tiny tourist cruisers become the cars of the future?

‘Fun Utility Vehicles’ have arrived in The City

Most Read