DRAMA/MYSTERY: “Murder on the Orient Express

With a bit of British restraint
Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench

By now, film adaptations based on the oeuvre of the two most prolific British writers of crime fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, form a respectable body. Of the latter, probably the best-known work remains “Murder on the Orient Express.” Today comes a new version by the, himself now almost venerable, Brit actor, Kenneth Branagh.

From the get-go in this iteration, the actor/director makes no attempt to shake the moth balls and on the contrary wraps his material in them with extreme reverence for its expected, and by now flimsy, consistency.

He starts us in Jerusalem in the thirties where the Belgian Hercule Poirot confirms with a pirouette his detective bona fide with an unstrenuous but still remarkable work from his “little grey cells.” From there, on to Istanbul where we embark on the famed Orient-Express train which, through Zagreb and Prague, with frighteningly steep snowy precipices along the way which the train doesn’t weather too well, will end in London.

For the proper Dame Agatha Christie, murder is a polite business, entailing little gore and hardly any blood. Raised eyebrows will be the most excessive manifestation of disapproval or even dislike by the Belgian detective, played by Branagh himself, and the roster of stars aligned here. Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp and more play characters at first seemingly as random as any bunch of strangers on a train but aha, the truth, as revealed by Monsieur Poirot, is quite different. 

Enough said. “Murder on the Orient Express, if stilted and definitely a period piece, is great fun and will have your own little grey cells puzzling over a great many questions for almost two hours. Not to worry. All is explained at the end.