Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

I read thirty or more Agatha Christie detective novels when I was in my twenties and that included many of the novels featuring the Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. I’ve always enjoyed watching the film and TV adaptations of the Poirot novels, with a special appreciation for the ways Peter Ustinov and David Suchet played the role of Poirot. It is generally accepted (by me as well) that Suchet was the best Poirot, and I admit to feeling disappointed at the way Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) played Poirot during the early minutes of Murder on the Orient Express, partly because it seemed so unlike Suchet. But Branagh’s performance grew on me very quickly and, by the end of the film, I had decided that it was my second-favourite thing about this new version of the film. Whether it was any better than Suchet’s performance in the same story, I can’t say, because that was one of Suchet’s later performances as Poirot and I haven’t had the chance to see it (I did see and enjoy Alfred Molina’s take on Poirot in this story (in 2001) but I prefer Branagh). As for the Albert Finney version, well, that was a classic.

My favourite thing about the new Murder on the Orient Express was the way the cinematography and score helped to create a well-rendered dark atmosphere for the film. It’s a beautiful film to watch and the darker take on the story worked well for me, especially with its strong period feel.

I won’t say much about the plot of Murder on the Orient Express. Those who aren’t familiar with it should know as little as possible. I will just say that Poirot finds himself on the Orient Express, travelling from Istanbul to Paris, when a murder takes place on board. As he tries to use his brilliant deductive powers to find the killer, he is constantly frustrated by the inconsistent stories of a number of the passengers, more than one of whom seem to have a motive for killing the victim, but all of whom have alibis. 

The passengers, whom I won’t name, are played by the following actors (among others): Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Willem Dafoe, Olivia Colman and Judi Dench. It’s a strong cast, always fun to watch, and the actors deliver solid performances, though most are barely more than cameos. Indeed, the film’s biggest flaw is the lack of attention paid to the various passengers and their stories. The later part of the film (until the last twenty minutes or so) drags because of the poor character development (some of which is also seen in the novel). It also makes for a confusing denouement that lacks the suspense the story calls for. 

Nevertheless, there are aspects of the ending of this adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express that I liked very much, for reasons that I won’t provide, and while this adaptation is by no means a classic, I did find it a very satisfying entertainment, deserving of at least ***, if not a little bit more. My mug is up.


  1. I agree that the movie is beautifully filmed. That kept my attention when my mind was taken up by constantly comparing Branagh with Suchet. Strange for me because I have a particularly high regard for KB.

    The lack of screen time for the supporting cast was such a disappointment knowing their acting abilities and for me detracted from the overall believability of the plot, and the final 'show down' for me was a 'let down' even though I was unfamiliar with the story line.

    I'm afraid I don't rate it so highly as yourself and I'm not particularly looking forward to the suggested sequel!

  2. I agree with this Wikip. quote: the film was "visually sumptuous yet otherwise inert". "Murder on the Orient Express is not a bad movie per se, merely one that feels self-indulgent and thoroughly unnecessary."
    However, what I found most interesting was the treatment of restorative justice. 1) Poirot learns that his obsession with finding out the truth isn't the most important thing. 2) The consequences of a crime (the baby's kidnapping) affect many lives. There is an incredible spiral of violence originating from that one act.