A group of passengers board a train. One of the passengers ends up being murdered. Everyone is a suspect. And one of the passengers is a renowned detective, named Hercule Poirot. Poirot now makes it his mission to find who the killer is and bring them to justice.
Murder on the Orient Express is another adaptation based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Unlike most mystery movies of recent like Gone Girl or The Girl On the Train, this film plays out more like the classic murder mystery story of the old days with a detective, several suspects, and clues found along the way. The film does succeed at keeping the mystery going and keeping you guessing on who the killer is until its ultimate reveal. Even the reveal itself contains a few twists. As an adaptation I think it does as well as it possibly can. However, I do have to say that the overall story works much better on paper in its novel form. So much more is able to be covered and detailed. As its own medium, as I mentioned, the film does well. But there are instances where I felt that it felt a bit rushed, and that it affected with much of the explanations that Poirot reveals whenever he finds certain clues or makes certain revelations. It’s mentioned and then it’s done without any further expansion or explantation. So basically you’re just taking his word for it. Along with this, many of the characters are massively underdeveloped and aren’t given much focus. With the exception of Michelle Pfeiffer (who is terrific in her role), along with Daisy Ridley, and Josh Gad, the other characters are just there to be red herrings. And two characters you actually forget are even there until they come into play towards the end of the film. Granted they all play a major part in the climax, we still don’t get enough of a feel of them prior. Without getting too “the book is better”, my point is that I think this is a difficult story to translate to film because the novel can so easily take its time to focus on events and characters, and with a film you’re only limited so much time. So that’s just a bit of a tip going into it. But again, it does as well as it possibly can to at least try make the film work. It’s also worth noting that towards the end, the film gets actually a lot deeper in emotion and tone than you would have expected. If there is anything I praise the film for its the terrific cinematography and the direction of Kenneth Branagh (who also stars in the film as Poirot). The scenery is beautiful to watch, and the amazing camera work and Branagh’s eye really tries to make us feel like we’re on the train, and there are many camera shots that really stand out and often with how they choose to follow the characters as they move about the train. And while the characters seem to go underdeveloped, the cast does an excellent job of really getting into the respective roles, and really turning in strong performances. Branagh presents different layers to Poirot. He delivers us comedy in his quirky detective persona, determination in his serious detective side, but then we get glimpses of a deeper and more humane side of him that’s sprinkled at a couple of points during the film and most especially at the end. As mentioned, Michelle Pfeiffer also turns in a solid performance as the wealthy, over-dramatic Mrs. Hubbard. Pfeiffer sells this performance, but then towards the end we see her turn in one great dramatic performance. Penelope Cruz is another who doesn’t get much development, but gives a really strong performance. And Johnny Depp turns in a really good performance as the most despicable man on the train. Then of course you have Dame Judi Dench as the feisty Russian princess. But one actor worth noting is Josh Gad. Between this and his performance in this year’s film Marshall, he shows he is more than capable of doing serious and dramatic roles as opposed to goofy comedy roles. So I really hope he does more roles like this and Marshall, because he really killed it in this film.
If you want to watch a good old fashioned mystery film with some good twists, then this one is for you. Should you rush out to the theater and see it? Not really, but for sure check it out on video. It’s extremely well-directed, filmed, and acted, and while I had my personal issues with the narrative and structure, it’s not a huge deal breaker.