What is arguably Agatha Christie's most famous tale returns to the big screen, helmed by director and star Kenneth Branagh, with some stylish modern production values and an undeniably impressive cast. The core story remains largely unchanged, with ingenious detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solving the case of an unprecedented killing on the luxurious Orient Express. Suspicion and tension rises between the many anxious passengers, forcing Poirot to locate the true culprit before they can strike again.
This latest adaptation of Christie's renowned novel doesn't take many liberties with the main plot; while such a treasured tale perhaps shouldn't be excessively toyed with, this will undeniably be a slight downside to some viewers as it leaves little room for surprises. A tense atmosphere is captured nicely and the many narrative revelations as things progress are fairly exciting and enjoyable, though perhaps slightly burdened by inconsistent pacing. Some segments are undeniably quite boring, and the runtime such scenes eat up could've been used toward ones that are a tad more engaging and influential to the overall plot.
But now I'm just making the film sound bad; alas, Orient Express is still an entertaining thriller, supported once again by some rich production values and a stellar cast. The cinematography, lighting, and set design is all beautiful to look at and captures the time period as well as the atmosphere perfectly. Some obvious CGI shots of the train racing along the rails during rough terrains do feel a little phoned in, however, and their abruptly epic presentation and thunderous sound design can make them contrast oddly with the rest of the film surrounding them.
Branagh delivers a superb performance as the lead detective Poirot, capturing the character's witty sense of humour and balancing it nicely with his more serious side when delving into the depths of this sinister crime. The rest of the cast, while not always as memorable, still perform very well: Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, as well as Johnny Depp as the murder victim himself. Depp's role is of course not very lengthy considering his early sign off, but the performance he delivers is solid enough for what the character is. What weakens much of the effort provided by this fab cast is the lack of development toward the characters they play; even Poirot himself isn't always as interesting as you might've hoped despite Branagh's devoted performance, and this flaw is even more applicable for some of the supporting roles. Murder on the Orient Express delivers tender emotions alongside some engrossing thrills, all presented with some lovely aesthetic design; while its plot development and pacing is not as refined, the end product is still an entertaining adaptation of a renowned classic story.