Agatha Christie's novel, Murder On The Orient Express, has been recreated with 2017 technology! Is it as good as the 1970s version? Does Hercule Poirot make his mark in the mystery world? Read our official review to find out!
An Intriguing WhoDunnit Mystery
Based on the book by Agatha Christie, Murder On The Orient Express finds, the cinematically underused, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) investigating the death of a high profile individual, aboard a lavish, luxurious train. During his investigation of his 13 individuals train-mates, Poirot uncovers a sinister plot that few could have foreseen.
As with any good mystery it’s good to play close attention to what is going throughout this movie. That may sound obvious. You are, after all, going to the movies to WATCH a film. However, what I’m advising isn’t to simply pay attention to the background to catch a glimpse of the murderer, but to pay attention to the words being spoken. If you’re not intently listening to what is going on, it is easy to miss a vital piece of information that Poirot is discerning, and with 13 different alibis it’s important to keep your wits.
If you haven’t read Christie’s work (which I highly recommend you do), you may not understand why this WhoDunnit Mystery is unlike your everyday generic suspense film. Christie’s book and Director Kenneth Branagh’s film doesn’t use traditional methods of several deaths to further the plot, but instead uses one to really hone in on. It’s more cerebral, this way, as it forces the audience to struggle to figure out who is the murderer, how did they do it, and what is their motivation. Plus, it allows for intriguing character work as Poirot cross-examines each witness.
For suspense junkies, Murder On The Orient Express should be right up your alley, because it’ll definitely keep you guessing from start to finish. For Agatha Christie fans, you should be happy with this film, for the most part. It changes a couple of small details but ultimately stays relatively true to the story.
Encumbered By Too Many Characters
MOTOE features an extensive cast of who’s who with the likes of Johnny Depp (Edward Ratchett), Daisy Ridley (Miss Mary Debenham), Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen), Penelope Cruz (Pilar Estravados), Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard), Willem Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman) and Judy Dench (Princess Dragomiroff), and those are just the names you know. While MOTOE does a decent job developing their big name characters, it tends to forget about the rest of them.
I’m not one to usually encourage changing the source material, when a book gets adapted to a movie, but MOTOE is one of my exceptions. Instead of having 13 persons of interest, they could have reduced it down to about 10 characters, and it actually could’ve helped the film. Instead, it introduces 13 people all with their issues but you’re only able to connect to a select few. The rest just tend to be afterthoughts.
That’s one of the pitfalls of producing a film with a quality ensemble cast. If you do it right, it could turn out like Ocean’s Eleven, where it’s balanced and everyone has a reason to be there. On the other hand, you could have a film like Suicide Squad where only 6-7 people really matter and the rest are shoehorned in. Unfortunately, MOTOE is like the latter.
Captivating Cinematography and Costume Design
When Oscar season rolls around, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if MOTOE is nominated for Best Cinematography and/or Costume Design. From the moment MOTOE started, I felt transported to that 1930s time period. Everything from the costumes to the train to the surrounding atmosphere to even the hairstyles felt right for that time. Despite the fact that there were too many people on that train, they all mostly looked the part.
Furthermore, the way MOTOE was shot made the movie that much more appealing. It’s not everyday that I commend a cinematographer by name but I thoroughly enjoyed Haris Zambarloukos’ work in this film. Whether or not this film was filmed inside an actual train, the camera work made it feel cramped, like they had to angle the camera just right to fit everything into the scene. It made it feel authentic.
The well done cinematography wasn’t just limited to the cramped quarters of the Orient Express. Even the outdoor scenes were well shot, and there really were only about 3 outdoor scenes. The first, at the Wailing Wall was a nifty opening to the movie. A little kid is running with a basket of eggs to a restaurant, the chef boils the eggs, and together they bring them to Poirot. It’s a charming little scene that is captured in a unique way to bring out the hurried essence. Later, when the crew of the Orient Express is out in the cold, the dark lighting and environment encapsulated the mysterious circumstances of the murder. I’m not much of a cinematography nut but this movie may have made me one.
A Character to Rival THE Sherlock Holmes
We all know Sherlock Holmes. He’s been played by Hollywood’s biggest actors for ages, each with their own variation of the expert detective. However, it’s time we start getting to know Hercule Poirot. Christie wrote a series of short stories, much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did with Holmes, about Poirot’s investigations. Branagh had the lofty job of directing and portraying the Belgian detective, but he executed it brilliantly. In fact, it may have been one of my favorite roles of his.
Unlike Sherlock who needs an assistant to reel him in, Poirot works fine by himself. He doesn’t have any drug-induced crutch. Instead, he’s got a major case of OCD that doesn’t allow him to see the world like a normal person. That’s the part of him that allows him to stand out as a detective, but gives him that much-needed flaw as a human. Additionally, where Sherlock is addicted to the case, Poirot simply wants a vacation but can never have one, which is pretty humorous.
Murder On The Orient Express was a good introduction to this character. It would be great to see more of his investigations on the big screen, in the near future.