Murder on The Orient Express Tries It’s Best, But Comes Up Short

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Branagh

Murder on The Orient Express (2017)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

You may not even realize it, but your favorite movies are the ones that successfully show rather than tell. A rich visual experience can provide multi-layered storytelling and thoughtful subtext without saying a word of dialogue, Murder on The Orient Express, unfortunately, is not one of those films.

Big spoilers; all the passengers of the Orient Express aren’t on it by chance, they all have a motive for the murder of a shady businessman named Ratchet played by Johnny Depp. We learn Ratchet is a cold blooded killer responsible for the murder of a young child years earlier. The fallout of his horrific actions naturally fanned out to affect several people, many of which have tracked down Ratchet to the Orient Express for a little revenge murder.

At this point most moviegoers are pretty tired of Depp’s hyper-eccentric performances he’s fallen back on in the last decade, but here he’s a little more understated than usual and seems to be performing in a better film than the rest of the cast. Not that the rest of the cast is bad, mind you, they all give admirable performances, but it’s the film itself that lets them down. Depp, given more screen time probably would have been equally undercut, but in his shorter amount of screen time his is the only performance that rises above a pretty hollow experience. Even Branagh feels caught between the campy whimsy of a humorous melodrama and a weighty period thriller. We go from a clever tracking shot of the quirky Hercule Poirot passing briskly through a train car full of energy and style, to the heavy handed motives of a would be revenge murder.

Despite the enthusiastic performances from an all-star cast, and some creative technical direction from Branagh, Orient Express relies too heavily on a rote plot and said character performances to sell a heavy handed emotional thrust. Without any emotional context much of what is being presented as sincere winds up being empty melodrama. A dash of melodrama can work great in a period piece full of rich wood surfaces and down to the stitch costumes, like this one, but with only blocks of expository dialogue to inform the characters the melodrama is wasted.

Murder on The Orient Express is not without its charms, but it winds up being a shallow experience unable to attain the heights it reaches for.

-James Merolla

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