Basic impression: I liked it! Quite a lot.
A sumptuous production that has an old-fashioned feel in a very good way. For the most part, the movie is a glamorous confection that is very much a tip of the cap (or a throwback) to a sort of film not made often anymore.
The screenplay (unnecessarily, I’d argue) elides and condenses some details of Christie’s plot, but for the most part, this is a very faithful presentation of the story, and one which Branagh (as director) uses to offer up absolutely top notch costuming, suitably elegant production design and set decoration, and stylish, beautiful cinematography. This is just a damn handsome film to look at.
The only significant misstep is the decision to set a not-inconsiderable amount of the scenes outside the train; this is a story that benefits (in my view) from a sense of some claustrophobia, and that’s limited here. However, in the grand scheme one can see why this choice was made, as it allows Branagh to open things up and stage sequences more easily than if the entirety was on the train itself.
The members of the cast all do fine work; for example, Depp is actually engaged and giving a for-real performance (!), while of the suspects, Pfeiffer arguably gets the most to do and acquits herself very well in the flashiest, showiest part in the tale, save for Poirot. And as Poirot, Branagh is absolutely wonderful, in what may be one of my favorite performances of the year. He nails Poirot’s fussy side and his utter distaste for crime, but he also brings to the table a marvelous playfulness, a twinkle in the eye (if you will) that is incredibly appealing. I would happily watch him in a series of Poirot films going forward.
It’s not a movie that will change anybody’s life, but it is a very high quality effort that I found highly entertaining and satisfying as a big fan of murder mysteries.
A few spoilery thoughts…Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
- Knowing the details of the mystery going in, I was glad to see that the movie mostly plays fair for those watching who may already know what the game is. Much of the story hinges on us buying that not only is the Armstrong case infamous and well-known to almost everybody in the tale, but also that Poirot, in particular, knows all the intricacies of it. If you don’t accept that, you might view Poirot as possibly knowing things he shouldn’t, or making wild assumptions based on nothing, so perhaps the movie could have emphasized that just a bit more.
- I absolutely LOVE how the finale plays out here; Poirot’s “I cannot lie, you must kill me!” gambit is a little contrived, but I think it gives the resolution some extra juice, and it really helps set up Poirot’s ambivalence about the crime and its solution, which is an important touch. He lets them off the hook, but he’s not truly confident he’s done the right thing, and that’s such a great way to leave the character.