Murder on the Orient Express
A competently directed and beautifully shot film by Kenneth Branagh that did not veer too much from Agatha Christie's source material. A refreshing take of a classic story that engages but never really hooked the audience. And if not for the strong ensemble of veteran thespians holding this film up, it would surely have not been as entertaining especially since the younger actors were general disappointments (with the exception of breakout actor Tom Bateman) as their obvious inexperience were starkly apparent when compared directly opposite the likes of Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Derek Jacobi, William Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Branagh and writer Michael Green managed to inject some originality and freshness to this (mostly) familiar story but despite Branagh's eye for staging, blocking and mood, he never really managed to capture that elusive hook that made this improbable Christie's story so gripping in text. There was a lack of climatic excitement and the urgency of solving a murder which made the book such a page-turner.
Similarly, compared to superior 1974 version - which had an all round star-studded and competent actors - this version lacked the suspense and a genuine sense of whodunnit even despite knowing the source material.
Branagh managed to ensemble a great cast of named-stars both veterans and up-and-comers. However, as aforementioned, the younger cast members could not hold their own against these established, and academy award winners and nominees. Every actor has a scene whereby they are the focus and it was so stark the difference between how veterans like Dench, Dafoe, Coleman, Jacobi commanded the screen compared to the blatant acting of young ones like Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Lucy Boynton and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. If only Branagh - and his odd accent - could have cast or directed these younglings better.
Kudos to cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and composer Patrick Doyle for providing excellent craft support that bolstered the film.
Now, as we wait for the sequel Death on the Nile, hopefully if Branagh returns to direct, he will have improved on the short-comings of this production.