The 2017 retelling of the classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express is now playing in cinemas. Featuring an all-star cast, is it a mystery worth deciphering?
It’s funny to see what time has done to a story like Murder on the Orient Express. Originally published as a novel back in 1934, its present day Hollywood version feels almost like a period piece while the original must have felt like a tale of mystery and adventure outside the grasp of many readers. Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation stays true to the original story and the 1974 Lumet version in many ways, making it a film quite unlike anything else coming out in theaters these days.
Besides directing, Branagh also stars as detective Hercule Poirot – also known as the “best detective in the world”. Poirot’s detective skills are perhaps the best part of the movie as well, which is something the opening sequence immediately makes clear. Confronted with a dilemma revolving around a stolen relic, Poirot quickly demonstrates how a single clue – combined with astute observations and his ability to connect facts – leads to a quick resolution.
Poirot is then called back for another case, and has to board the Orient Express to travel to London. While on the train, one of its passengers is murdered and it’s up to Poirot to solve the case before local police catches up with them. Providing him with a little breathing room is the fact that the train derails and is caught up in snow, but time is ticking.
As the train’s carts are isolated from one another, the list of possible killers is short one and we quickly get to know them through Poirot’s interviews. As the story unfolds, we discover that nearly all of them have a personal connection to the victim – who has a dark past himself. What follows is a tale of suspense and intrigue, where it’s hard to pinpoint a single suspect and travelers all point in different directions.
It’s tasking upon Poirot as well, but it’s his detective skills that propel the story forward every time we appear to be stuck. Unlike the events of the opening sequence, however, conclusions appear to come out of thin air sometimes – which lessens the impact when compared to said sequence. What Poirot ultimately discovers is puzzling to him in his own right as well, as he becomes conflicted with regards to the outcome he’s after.
Branagh’s performance as Poirot is the most eye-catching one of the film, with good performances by Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer as well. What should have been the strongest point, however, is the actual mystery solving. Branagh’s Poirot gets there in the end, but not without jumping to a few conclusions a little early and few characters that are ultimately forgettable. What remains is a modern period piece that’s entertaining enough, but never lives up to the promise of its opening sequence.