So the reboot of Agatha Christie stories by Kenneth Branagh continues with this elegant film that is being released almost two years later than planned. Murder on the Orient Express was reasonably successful adult mystery film a couple of years ago, so a follow-up seemed likely. The character of Hercule Poirot is a natural for a film series and the detective does not disappoint in this entry.
The film opens with a flashback scene that shows us young Poirot in WWI, already observant of the details surrounding him. Although we also get an origin story of his mustache, it’s really about his detective skills and the sadness that will follow him the rest of his career. It is certainly not relevant the story but it adds character to our lead and makes the main story more interesting. This is one of the things that marks this as an improvement on the previous film, all the characters are going to be introduced slowly enough for us to have a sense of what is going on and who is who. The fact that they are not on the Nile in the first fifteen minutes does not detract from the story but rather adds to it.
The cast is elaborate and international, and they are all reasonably good. Gal Godot looks great but the scenes she appears in during the trailer had me worried about her performance. As it turns out, the over the top delivery in those clips is not typical and she is really much more solid. These films seem to have a curse on them to some degree, because one of the lead actors has gotten into a public relations nightmare. Johnny Depp is still trying to crawl out of the hole that lead many to boycott seeing him in “Murder”, Armie Hammer now takes a turn at being the public figure with a dark cloud hanging over him and bringing it to the theater with him. His character is the most cliched in the film, so that undermines a little bit of the suspense. His best moments are a dance sequence with Emma Mackey who plays the fiancé that his character ditches for Godot. Their erotic dance suggests a relationship that is pretty powerful and may leave some suspense on the table as a result.
Frankly, the main attraction here is the look of the film. As elegant as “Murder” was, this doubles down on that. Once we get to Egypt, we have fantastic vistas, a romantic river (filled with crocodiles) and a boat to die for. The ship that the whole cast ends up on may be a CGI invention is some shots, but it is carried off well, and the actual sets that are the staterooms, dining room and main hall of the boat are all decorated lavishly with period colors, art work and deco designs. The clothes and the food will make you wish that you were taking the trip with this crew of suspects.
The main weakness of the film is the convoluted process by which the murders are carried out. It follows the same design as the 1978 version, so I assume that Christie is responsible for those plot points since they are identical for the most part. When we get to the solution, it feels a little bit like one of the three endings of the comedy “Clue” , where there is a lot of running around, actions that rush by, and the detective taking it all for granted that he has it correct. The side plot of the blues singer and her niece is a little spliced in, but it ends up working anyway.
All in all it is a very entertaining film and one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinematography you are likely to see this year. The score from Christopher Gunning is lush and evocative, and I thought it was superior in fitting the film than the work that was done in the 2017 “Murder”. This is an adult film with a little mystery, a lot of drama and some great scenery. Why wouldn’t you have a good time?