Photo by Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox
                                Josh Gad, left, and Johnny Depp star in Murder on the Orient Express.

Photo by Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox Josh Gad, left, and Johnny Depp star in Murder on the Orient Express.

Kenneth Branagh Brings Some Fun to ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

A starry cast, old-fashioned screenwriting, and a gigantic mustache make for a satisfying whodunit.

Kenneth Branagh brandishes an improbable mustache and suspicious accent in Murder on the Orient Express, but I have no interest in mockery. Surely one reason—not the most exalted reason, maybe, but a reason—to go to the movies is to relish the spectacle of an actor battling outlandish tricks of the trade and making them fun. Branagh understands that kind of make-believe, and he hits it on the button here.

He plays the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, and also directs the film. Poirot boards the deluxe Orient Express in Istanbul, little suspecting a passenger will die in the night and an avalanche will strand the train just long enough for the murder to be solved. The previous big-screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel was a big hit in 1974; it’ll be interesting to see whether there’s still an audience for the material in a landscape of action blockbusters and gross-out comedies. The assembled suspects are almost as starry as the roster for the ‘74 film: Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley (from the new Star Wars series), Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, and a handful of others. Most of the actors get a scene or two to shine, which is the limitation of a story like this. There’s a lot to crowd in, and only 114 minutes to play with.

As director, Branagh mostly stays out of Agatha Christie’s way and lets the material do its surefire thing, except for a couple of ill-advised sequences of people running and jumping. Presumably these were added so they could be put in the film’s trailer and give the impression of something other than a movie in which people talk on a train. But it is a movie where people talk on a train, and a good deal of the dialogue by screenwriter Michael Green is entertaining and pleasingly old-fashioned. In retrospect, the solution—while satisfying—seems so obvious that it probably could’ve also been solved by the world’s second- or third-best detective.

Still, it’s nice to be around Poirot, played by Branagh as a detail freak whose fastidiousness is more of a burden than a gift (he asks strangers if they could straighten their neckties, because the imbalance disturbs him). Amazingly, you get used to his massive mustache after looking at it for a couple of minutes—you know, as you would if a friend had an animal pelt stuck to his upper lip. There’s a strong case here for the value of an actor’s sheer commitment. Opens Friday, Nov. 10, at various theaters, Pated PG-13

film@seattleweekly.com

More in Film

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, and Jack Black get their kiddie horror on in The House 
With a Clock in Its Walls. Photo courtesy Storyteller Distribution Co.
Tick, Tick… Boo!

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett can’t prevent the spooky kids’ movie The House with a Clock in Its Walls from feeling a bit insincere.

If you see the poster art for Mandy and are surprised it’s wild, it’s your own damn fault.
Totally Uncaging the Cage

Nicolas Cage taps into his manical best for the acid-trip fantasy revenge film, ‘Mandy.’

Robert Redford says goodbye with The Old Man & the Gun. Photo by Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox
Fall Movie Preview 2018

From Oscar hopefuls to broad comedies, here’s what the season’s film slate has to offer.

John Cho logs on to find his missing daughter in Searching. Photo by Sebastian Baron
Social (Media) Thriller

While not escapist fare, Searching ‘s story of a father searching for his daughter online does feel authentically of the internet.

Regina Hall (center) leads the Double Whammies crew in Support the Girls. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Character Meets Cleavage in ‘Support the Girls’

Don’t be fooled by Hooters-esque facade. The Regina Hall-led film is a warm, funny, and communal.

Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, and director Marc Turtletaub put together the pieces on the set of Puzzle. 
Photo by Linda Kallerus/Sony Pictures Classics
Can ‘Puzzle’ Fit in the New Oscars Landscape?

The understated indie boasts a fabulous performance by Kelly Macdonald, but does that matter in the Best Popular Film era?

Teens bond at a gay conversion camp in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Photo courtesy Beachside Films
The Conversion Immersion of ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

A strong young ensemble helps director Desiree Akhavan artfully takedown conversion therapy.

The ostentatious takes center stage in Generation Wealth. Photo by Lauren Greenfield
Show Me the Money

The documentary ‘Generation Wealth’ attempts to show greed’s shallowness, but somewhat loses focus.

Tom Cruise hangs onto his action hero bonafides with ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout.’ Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures/Skydance
Impossibly Not Getting Old

Tom Cruise and his action franchise remain sharp in ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout.’

Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill lead a hefty cast in <em></em><em>Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot</em>. Photo by Scott Patrick Green/Amazon Studios
Steady Footing

Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill anchor ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,’ Gus Van Sant’s biopic about a quadriplegic cartoonist.

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) stays glued to her screens in ‘Eighth Grade.’ Photo by Linda Kallerus/A24
Embracing the Naturalistic Awkwardness of ‘Eighth Grade’

Writer/director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fisher discuss making and living one of the year’s best films.

Golden Goal

On the Seventh Day takes an atypical sports movie approach while addressing immigrant issues.