I know I’m totally dating myself by even mentioning it, but I’ve always thought there was something terribly romantic about reading a really great book on an airplane. A real book. You know, the kind with actual pages and stuff. Something about curling up with a juicy read while jetting through the clouds on an airplane was, and still is, somewhat thrilling. That’s probably why writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s recent remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was such a treat.
A big, splashy, star-studded tribute to the types of movies Hollywood used to make in its sleep, Orient is the kind of moviegoing experience you don’t realize you’ve missed until you see it. Sure, it’s corny, melodramatic, and a little over-produced – though I have to admit, the CGI train in the snow was pretty badass! – but, when you’ve got that much intrigue and star power in one movie, who cares? And unlike some of the previous Christie adaptations – particularly the turgid Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot TV movies from the 1980s – this Orient has a top-notch screenplay by Oscar nominee Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049). Filled with fun, witty banter and classic one-liners, Green’s air-tight script sets the perfect tone for this lavish, old-school whodunit.
Starring director-producer Branagh (Hamlet, Dunkirk) as Poirot, Orient starts with an all new cold open set in Jerusalem that, aside from being very funny, also gives Branagh the perfect opportunity to highlight Poirot’s many idiosyncrasies from the get-go. And needless to say the role suits Branagh as perfectly as one of Poirot’s fancy nighttime mustache guards.
Called to London for a case, Poirot is offered passage on the iconic Orient Express by an old friend, Bouc (Snatched’s Tom Bateman). Looking forward to relaxing on the rails and savoring the delights of perfectly symmetrical eggs for breakfast and a chance to catch up on his Dickens, Poirot’s vacation is rudely interrupted by, you guessed it, another murder. And this time, everyone on the train is a suspect.
Featuring mostly stellar performances – Johnny Depp overplays his hand, and accent, a bit as the murder victim in question – from an international cast including Oscar-winners Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Nine), Judi Dench (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and perennial nominees Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys, I Am Sam) and Willem Dafoe (John Wick, The Great Wall), Orient is literally overflowing with killer star turns. And though the cast is uniformly great, I found Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, Sing Street‘s Lucy Boynton, and The Lobster’s Olivia Colman to be particularly effective in their very limited time onscreen. Especially Boynton, who brings the tragedy at the heart of the film’s mystery to life in a brilliant, virtually wordless performance.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about this epic, action-packed reimagining of Agatha Christie’s novel is that it is only the first in a planned series of Branagh-Poirot potboilers to come. And though some Christie purists slammed Branagh’s take on Poirot as being more super hero than super sleuth, I, personally, can’t wait to see what everyone’s favorite mustachioed Belgian gets up to next. Especially if it involves a little nimble stunt work here and there. So, bring on Death on the Nile!
Now playing on select Delta, EL AL, Air France, and Hawaiian Airlines flights worldwide, Murder on the Orient Express is also available via streaming at Amazon Video, Google Play, and iTunes.