Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1 hr 54 min

Studio: 20th Century Fox Screenwriter: Michael Green

Based on: The novel by Agatha Christie 

Everyone is a suspect in Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, written for film by Michael Green. It’s not the first time this novel has been made for film or television, but it is the most recent. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen those others or read one of her thirty-plus novels; there is a first time experience for everyone! 

Agatha Christie’s works have sold over 2 billion copies worldwide in the century since her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920. Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934. All these years later, people love her work. The most iconic of all her characters, detective Hercule Poirot, comes alive again through actor/director Kenneth Branagh. 

Branagh is an iconic stage and film actor who ticks off all the mannerisms and peculiarities that make Poirot such an iconic and layered character. Minus the egg head Agatha Christie famously describes him with. 

The film’s opening is at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; it’s a short bit that sets up why he ends up on the train, yes. Most importantly, it shows, not tells, the audience who he is. How he operates as a detective and as a person. Hercule Poirot has been a staple in Christie’s novels for well over a decade by the time this novel is published, so those familiar with her work understand him. If you are not, this scene addition is essential for the viewer. 

As the title and trailer state, there is a murder on a train. With twelve main suspects on this train, stuck on a mountain bridge by an avalanche, casting Poirot was arguably the most critical casting choice. The others could have been filled with newcomers or unknowns, but Branagh filled this train ride with an all-star cast of talent. Their respective character portrayals do not disappoint.

It’s challenging to create atmosphere, character depth, structure, and pace for a story that doesn’t miss something with so many people. The filmmakers can bring to life this ensemble so effortlessly because the original material has already done these things so well. Additionally, the sets, props, costumes (period-appropriate clothing), and camera work capture the close quarters’ train ride. 

If, like me, you enjoy knowing tidbits about the process behind bringing a film to life, make sure to rent or borrow a copy of this film that has the “extras” section. I found the way they shot the landscape scenes outside the train fascinating! 

Near seventy-five years later, certain aspects of humanity and social constructs remain. A single serving mentality of meeting people you will never see again is especially evident on this train. Class hierarchy and discrimination are others. However, it is the aspect of the murder that is especially true. That murder has a ripple effect. That love, guilt, truth, and revenge are all components of the human experience that were true then and today. It’s human nature to want the guilty to suffer. 

Those aspects remain, but the overall intelligence of a reader has increased. Many find Agatha Christie’s work irrelevant because they don’t see her as challenging as newer mystery/crime writers. In a way, that is true, but so what? The story-telling process Christie used then is applicable today and still inspires a new generation every year. The importance of details, motive, character, plot, and story structure never changes. It’s why they are still in print, in libraries, in schools, and for sale in multiple languages. Part of her process is to allow the reader to know what the detective knows, so you feel a part of the story in a way. That process is not lost when adapted to the screen. 

On-screen, it’s almost more immersive. You are like the character, Monsieur Bouc, who follows Hercule Poirot around seeing and hearing what he does. It’s not often to find a movie where you can easily place yourself in a characters’ shoes. 

If you like crime, mysteries, or the game ‘Clue’, this is ideal for a movie night flick to add to your watch list. 

-a pen lady