Adaptation Crime

'Murder on the Orient Express' Film Review: A star-studded whodunit worthy of a ticket

November 10, 2017Ben Mk



   
With a star-studded cast and helmed by a director with a keen eye for cinematic detail, Murder on the Orient Express sets the bar high right from its opening frames. Fortunately, this stylish, high-concept whodunit manages to live up to expectations, thanks to some impeccable performances and a well-played emotional twist.

Set in 1934 and based on the classic novel by Agatha Christie, the story follows the legendary Inspector Hercule Poirot (director Kenneth Branagh), a man as well known for his eccentricities and his distinctive, well-groomed mustache as he is for his skills in the realm of crime-solving. The protagonist of nearly half of Christie's 70-odd novels, Poirot is no stranger to the screen, but Branagh is able to claim the role as his own, establishing the character as someone who is gifted yet somewhat tormented, with a snide sense of humor.

When the film begins, we find Poirot at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, where his services have been enlisted in solving a case involving a stolen religious artifact. It isn't long, though, before the super sleuth is summoned back to Britain to consult on another case, after which Poirot finds himself departing from Istanbul aboard the lavish locomotive that is the Orient Express. Along the way, however, the train is waylaid by an avalanche that sends mounds of snow crashing down on the tracks before it. Meanwhile, a shady counterfeit art dealer named Ratchett (Johnny Depp) falls victim to some foul play, sending a reluctant Poirot on a hunt for the killer.

Suddenly, every one of the Orient Express' other dozen or so passengers is a suspect, from the governess (Daisy Ridley) and her doctor companion (Leslie Odom Jr.), to the husband-hunting widow in the cabin next door (Michelle Pfeiffer), to Ratchett's own assistant and butler (Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi). The list goes on and on, and also includes a Spanish missionary (Penélope Cruz), a standoffish German princess and her maid (Judi Dench and Olivia Colman), a racially prejudiced Austrian professor (Willem Dafoe), a Count and Countess (Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton), and even the train's own conductor (Marwan Kenzari).

Could one of these characters not be who they say they are? And what motive would they have to commit such a brazen crime with Poirot in their midst? As the narrative unfolds, screenwriter Michael Green proceeds to answer these questions in turn, hewing fairly closely to the source material while also seeing fit to introduce a few new elements in the process. Suffice to say, Christie's legions of ardent fans ought to be pleased with the results, as Branagh and Green (and indeed, the entire production and costume design teams) have done an excellent job translating the story to the big screen.

Of course, that's not to say that the journey isn’t without its bumps. With so many characters, it's an unfortunate fact that some of them get the short shrift, and with the vast majority of the movie set aboard the train, the pacing can be problematic at times. Still, Murder on the Orient Express arrives at its destination no worse for wear, and with a tease for the next novel in Christie's Poirot series, "Death on the Nile," playfully closing off the film, who's to say if the Dark Knight might have some competition for the title of World's Greatest Detective.


Murder on the Orient Express releases November 10th, 2017 from 20th Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 54 min.








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