Great to look at, but offers little else
Geez that is quite the IMDB description. Why is it so hard to sum up a movie in a sentence or two for the IMDB description? "There's a murder. It happens to be on the Orient Express." Done. See? Easy! Anyway, that long IMDB description is actually a good segue to the biggest problem of the film: it's bloated. This movie lasts 114 minutes, but 30 of those minutes could've been cut out with ease and no one would've blinked an eye. Heck at 84 minutes this thing would probably still be too long. However, I cannot deny that this film is great to look at. This film is gorgeous! The fashion of this movie is wonderful. The production design, once we're actually on the train, is great. I also had a blast watching some of the hottest actors on the planet interact with each other in a confined space. But still. At the end of the day, this movie is simply..... fine. It takes way too long to get to the actual story, but once it gets there, I had fun watching it. Despite some sloppy directing. So, let's dive into it, shall we?
Let's start with the good. As I said, this film looks GREAT. I think you could definitely find enjoyment in just looking at the film and not even listening to it. From the costumes to the production design to the makeup, there is a clear and meticulous attention to detail taken here. Additionally, the acting is great. As it should be as this cast is ginormous! I mean Willem Dafoe, fresh off of one of the best performances of the year in The Florida Project, has like 5 lines in this whole movie! That's when you know your cast is stacked, and of course everyone brings their A-game. Kenneth Branagh is the focal point here as Detective Poirot, and my God is his accent amazing. It was actually almost too good as there were points where I couldn't understand what he was saying, though I think that was more a fault of the sound editing than anything else. Finally, once we're on the train and in the thick of the whodunit, I had fun watching it. The whodunit is pretty fun, but even this they manage to butcher a bit. Whoa! Another good segue!
So, as you can probably guess, the biggest problem of this film by FAR is that it is too long. It is rare for me to hold that complaint as the biggest one for a film, but when almost the ENTIRE first half of your film feels unnecessary, you know you have a problem. See, the movie opens with this entire sequence in the Middle East (I think? I can't even remember at this point) that has nothing to do with, you know, the murder. On the Orient Express. This part was rather sloppy, and made Detective Poirot feel like a French version of RDJ's Sherlock Holmes. (Another complain I had.....this movie makes little to no effort to make you not think about Sherlock Holmes the entire time.) After some more (relatively) pointless dawdling, we're finally to the train station, and this is where we are greeted with some rushed character introductions for the A-list cast. Which makes NO SENSE. Why do we have to waste 20+ minutes of valuable screen-time in sequences that add nothing to the film, just to rush through the character introductions? You know, the things that are relevant to the film? I don't know how much of this falls on Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film) and how much of it comes down on writer Michael Green, but the first act of this film is very frustrating and, well, terrible! Fortunately, the second act turns it up to eleven as we finally get, you know, the Murder on the Orient Express, (ah! He said it!) as well as the initial "interviews," which basically just put Kenneth Branagh on screen with every member of the cast for entirely too short a period of time. These sequences were easily the best of the film, particularly the exchanges with Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench. Talk about an insane amount of charisma there! Buuuuuuut then the film goes right back to being messy in the third act as we're greeted with at least one completely unnecessary MacGuffin that exists just to add more screen-time. Also, as I mentioned before the sound editing at points was rather sloppy, as I simply could not hear what some of the characters were saying at several points. I don't usually make note of that because it may be the quality of the speaker system in the theater itself, but I was in a brand-new movie theater (less than a month old) so I do think this one was on the movie and not the theater.
At the end of the day, I think this film would have been better served as a 45-minute made-for-TV movie, because it really could've been done in that kind of run-time. But obviously a TV movie would never receive the kind of money this film received, so it seems we're stuck between a rock and a hard place with this movie. I'll give it a lot of points for being great to look at, but the second you start thinking about it, it falls apart. It's average, at best. I say it's worth watching if you're a big fan of Kenneth Branagh, but everyone else? Even big fans of Agatha Christie? Don't bother with this. I think it'll leave you far too frustrated and wishing for more time on The Orient Express.
The Critique: Sloppy directing and a hilariously bloated story undermine this otherwise fun, beautiful, and charismatic whodunit.
The Recommendation: I really would not recommend this to many people. I think even fans of Kenneth Branagh may get a bit frustrated with this one just because they want to like it so much. If you do check it out....turn your brain off and just enjoy this film's good looks. Because it doesn't have much else to offer.
The Verdict: 5/10