Kenneth Branagh takes another crack at bringing a classic work to the modern cinema. Murder on the Orient Express is a fairly faithful adaptation with a cast that could probably make anything watchable.
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Brannagh) is the world’s greatest detective. After solving a case in Istanbul, he is summoned to London. He’s reluctant, wanting a break after all his recent cases. Still, he agrees to go and seeks transportation. He comes upon his friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is the director of a luxury train called the Orient Express. Even though the train is completely booked, Bouc manages to find a place for his renowned friend aboard the Orient Express. Once on board the train a cast of characters is introduced, each with their own identifiers:
- The Governess
Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), a forward thinking woman of education.
- The Physician
Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) a traveling American doctor, who seems to be in a secret relationship with Mary.
- The Missionary
Pilar Extravados (Penelope Cruz) a deeply pious woman who seems to be dressed as some kind of makeshift nun.
- The Dancer and the Addict:
Count and Countess Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton). They are a secretive couple and the Count is willing to defend the Countess to the point of violence.
- The Aristocrat and the Maid:
Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her handmaid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Coleman).
- The Scholar:
Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), an Austrian with some very strong nationalist views.
- The Tourist:
Caroline Hubbard (Michell Pfeiffer) a wealthy woman out for some fun on vacation.
- The Fugitive:
Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) a shady art dealer who seems to have criminal ties.
- The Assistant:
Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), Ratchett’s belittled assistant.
- The Valet:
Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi), Ratchett’s … let’s say he’s a butler. Mostly he’s just a guy Ratchett yells at.
- The Businessman:
Bianiamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) as a Cuban immigrant turned car salesman.
- The Attendant:
Pierre Michel (Marwan Kenzari) is just the guy in charge of keeping the train running smoothly.
Things on the train take a turn quickly when Ratchett is discovered dead in his room. At Bouc’s insistance, Poirot reluctantly sets to work trying to figure out how and why this murder took place. Eventually, he finds himself in the midst of an elaborate criminal plot. It turns out that no one on the train is who they say they are. They are all connected by the case of the kidnapping and murder of a little girl named Daisy Armstrong. Poirot knows the case because Daisy’s father had reached out to him before, but the child had already been found dead by the time he received the message. As Poirot begins to realize that the deception and murder is the events of the case coming full circle he is left with a decision. Does he punish the people who are trying to find justice for a murdered little girl and the ruined lives of her family or does he allow a group of conspirators to get away with murder.
- Kenneth Branagh’s mustache is definitely worth mentioning. Poirot’s mustache has been a trademark of the character and this may be the first visual adaptation to truly do justice to the audacious nature of the mustache as it’s described in Christie’s work.
- As you would expect, there are a few changes from the book to the movie. One of the most significant / obvious is that some characters have been cast with an actor of a different ethnicity. This means that some of the prejudices in the movie have to be updated appropriately.
- The movie begins with Poirot solving the case of a Priest, a Rabbi and an Imam. This doesn’t seem to be a reference to an existing Agatha Christie story, but something created just for the movie.
- The movie ends with Poirot being called a way to the case of a man dying on the Nile River. Poirot gives a knowing look to the camera because this is a reference to one of his more famous cases: A Murder on the Nile.
What did I think?
Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” was originally released in 1933. For better or worse, this movie feels like it’s really staying true to that material. Undoubtedly, this will appeal to fans of the book and it’s other adaptations. Unfortunately, it also makes this movie has the same energy of reading a book. The story is the only really exciting thing about the movie. Very little is added to spice things up and make the movie feel a little more exciting or engaging. They do throw in a lackluster chase scene and a gun standoff that feels startlingly out of place, but those things don’t do nearly enough to assuage the, frankly, boring pacing of the movie. At least the gun standoff gives the movie a chance to showcase Leslie Odom Jr..
This was definitely an adaptation that was made with care and required no small amount of work from the actors to really nail down some nuanced interactions between these classic characters. Even though it’s not the most thrilling movie, there is a lot of detail and intricacy to this adaptation. The actors are constantly transitioning between different languages and interactions with ease and class. Some of the scenery looks almost like it was painted on the screen. There’s a deep attention to detail on the train. The movie even pays attention to the details of how people on the train pay attention to details. When I think about how all of this came together, I understand why they wanted to get such an accomplished cast together. Almost everyone is playing multiple roles in one way or another and having to deal with a lot of the minutia of what different interactions and actions mean for those characters.
While it might not be the most exciting movie, it is very well made and it does capture the heart of the source. I could see this being a great way to introduce someone to the works of Agatha Christie.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
- This cast is to die for and they do not disappoint.
- The scenery looks almost like a painting
- Stays pretty true to the source material
- Not the most exciting movie
- Fairly flat and monotonous pacing