Shot in sumptuous 65mm and imbued with a surprising giddiness, Murder on the Orient Express is a delightfully old-fashioned whodunit.
With a glorious mustache that must be seen to be believed, Kenneth Branagh slips into the role of Hercule Poirot quite comfortably. Persnickety but brilliant, Poirot continually proves how he lives up to the title of the World's Greatest Detective.
This version of Agatha Christie's novel doesn't really tweak the story that much. It's still set in the 1930s, and the characters are still their same archetypes, each with murky motives and backstories in their relation to the murder victim. But the film plays out the mystery so effectively, keeping you guessing until the end (unless you've read the novel or seen one of the many other versions).
And despite some questionable special effects, director of photography Haris Zambourloukos (Branagh's right-hand man for the last decade) creates some truly stunning shots, including a gorgeous pan of a busy kitchen (featuring bread fresh out of the oven that had me salivating) and a climactic confrontation that resembles Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper.
The cast is suitably star-studded, and even if you're sick of some of them (looking at you, Johnny Depp and Josh Gad), they each play their parts perfectly, with some making full meals out of mere scraps in the script. Of the suspects, Michelle Pfeiffer – glamorous and unapologetically hedonistic – and Leslie Odom, Jr. – trying to restrain his righteous indignation – shine the brightest.
The world didn't need another version of Murder on the Orient Express (or Death on the Nile, which gets teased in the last scene). But if you're going to re-do something, you might as well do it well. This is mystery done well, and even if it's old-fashioned, it's so refreshing compared to so many of the hyperactive ugly blockbusters we have today. If you need a break from superhero movies, this is your smart alternative.