Murder on the Orient Express Review
I am not certain why I wanted to see this movie when I first heard it was in production. I mean, I have seen practically every major adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel. Yet, there is plenty of allure. The arguably lurid backstory to the murder. Plus the wonderful décor of an express steam train traveling through the snowy landscapes of the Balkans. Murder on the Orient Express is a period drama that despite the grizzly circumstances of the story facilitates one experience for readers and viewers – nostalgia.
This new adaptation by director Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the Belgian detective Hercules Poirot, can count on a large ensemble cast. And yet that is not how the movie starts. The story starts simply, in Jerusalem, with the detective solving a theft at the famous Western Wall. As he is travelling back to London he makes known to everybody how deeply he needs a holiday. Besides Daisy Ridley’s character Mary Debenham we are not introduced to the other characters in any great depth. That changes in Istanbul, the starting point of the Orient Express as it heads through Yugoslavia, Italy, France and on to London in the United Kingdom.
Emphasize on drama
Director Kenneth Branagh wastes no effort in depicting the beauty of Istanbul and the lavishness that will permit the occupants of the fateful train to travel. Unlike previous adaptations there is no expectation that a murder will occur or be uncovered. The only thing that alerts viewers is when Poirot has a deeply disturbing meeting with the victim just hours before he is murdered. The victim is played by Johnny Depp. Instead the avalanche that stalls the train expertly distracts the viewer. In fact, after the murder is announced we don’t see an investigation of the body for a while. What is also different in this adaptation is Poirot’s reluctance to being dragged into an investigation. Only on the insistence of his friend and Orient Express manager Bouc does he begin.
Well, I believe you know how the story unfolds. Despite familiarity it was marvelous to behold how the backstory of the murder was uncovered. There are some very strong performances by Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Pfeiffer. The level of drama accentuated by their personal grief hides the identity of the actors and actresses. Murder on the Orient Express does not lean much on action tropes, it is drama that prevails. As for Kenneth Branagh, his depiction of Poirot shows the misery that he is in with having to solve this murder. Just like with Daniel Craig’s performance as James Bond there is a moment late in the movie that you realize he is truly Hercules Poirot.
The movie is not without some problems plot wise, even if you already know the story. There was in instance of disappearing characters, notably the Russian couple: Count and Countess Andrenyi. Also one description of an alibi, provided by Poirot himself, made no sense. Between that and some popcorn chewing viewers who couldn’t help but shout the actors names out loud I was lost at two moments. If there is one thing I felt after seeing Murder on the Orient Express is it made me feel as if I had not experienced the story before. This adaptation feels genuinely more gritty by depicting the aftermath and the consequences of the murder and kidnapping that set everything in motion. If I am permitted to say this I will. You’ve not experienced Murder on the Orient Express until you have seen the original Kenneth Branagh adaptation. I am certainly looking forward to another ‘tragic’ homicide somewhere exotic. Perhaps Egypt maybe?