Murder on the Orient Express
A Whodunit Remake
The Agatha Christie whodunit novel Murder on the Orient Express was previously adapted into a feature film in 1974 and that star-studded adaptation was a big hit with audiences. It has continued to stick around in the public consciousness throughout the years and the reveal of the murderer is often mentioned when people discuss the best movie plot twists of all-time. This brings into question the wisdom of a modern remake, because we are well beyond spoiler warnings at this point. This leaves the 2017 version of Murder of the Orient Express feeling more like an invitation to watch a group of popular actors hang out at a costume party than it does a suspenseful murder mystery.
The movie opens in Jerusalem where we witness Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot foil the theft of a crucial religious artifact. While this sequence is important in establishing Poirot’s unequaled talent as a detective, the next ten minutes following him to Istanbul to start his vacation seems like an unnecessary detour on our way towards the boarding the titular train. We do meet a few of the other lead characters during this, but we don’t learn anything about them that we could not have learned just as easily at the train station or aboard the locomotive.
Once the movie gets us to the train station where the various characters are boarding the lavish Express train, the movie delivers its highlight: an extended, one-shot sequence that follows Poirot as he is led through the station, aboard the train, and into his cabin. The camera floats through the station set introducing us to almost all of the remaining crucial characters and setting up the fateful voyage. It is a fun sequence which the movie unfortunately fails to live up to from then on.
There is not anything especially wrong with the movie. Aside from some obvious overuse of computer-aided visuals and a few shot choices that stand out as questionable, the movie looks good. Director Kenneth Branagh has brought together an impressive ensemble cast, led by himself as the famously quirky, flamboyantly mustachioed hero. Johnny Depp plays a gangster turned fake art dealer, Michelle Pfeiffer a husband-hunting socialite, Willem Dafoe an Austrian scientist, and the always welcome Dame Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff. Daisy Ridley even puts down her lightsaber to play a traveling Governess. Each of these lavishly costumed stars play it big and add a little bit of fun to the proceeding.
This is good, because the movie is paced incredibly slowly. Combine that with the fact that a large portion of this movie’s audience probably already knows who is going to be revealed as the murderer and there is little in the way of suspense or drama to this film. Poirot interrogates each passenger one by one as he slowly begins to piece together the puzzle that led to the central murder and the brief action scenes, if you can call them that, between these interviews feel forced more than necessary.
It may not be totally fair to judge a movie based on the fact that it does not bring anything new or surprising to a story that was already filmed well forty years ago, but movies do not exist in a vacuum either and for anyone who had already read the book or seen the 1974 film version, there will be little to look forward to as this movie trudges along. Those who don’t already know who did it and find delight in popular stars wearing fancy old-timey clothes speaking in exaggerated accents will likely be more interested in the puzzle as the movie goes along as they try to put the pieces together better than the self-described “greatest detective in the world.”
Murder on the Orient Express is rated PG-13 for “violence and thematic elements.” The murder is mostly off-screen, but the dead body is scene and there is some gun violence throughout the film.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Murder on the Orient Express.