Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express first came out in 1934, and since then it has been adapted for television, radio, and film, the latest of which is directed by and a starring Kenneth Branagh in the lead role of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh brings great humor and even greater cinematography to the mostly unchanged story, although the film can’t help but lose some steam in the second half.


Having just solved a case in Jerusalem, famed detective Hercule Poirot is greatly looking forward to taking a holiday in Istanbul. His break is short lived when a letter arrives from London demanding his presence in France. With the help of his friend and director of the Orient Express Bouc (Tom Bateman), he is able to quickly obtain a seat on the next train out. Over the course of the three day trip, Poirot is introduced to a quirky cast of characters including the shady businessman Ratchett (Johnny Depp), the governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), the widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) in addition to other questionable passengers. Ratchett has made many enemies over his lifetime so it comes as no surprise that he is murdered the first night on the train, setting off an investigation by detective Poirot to catch the killer as it must be one of the other passengers.


Like any good murder mystery half the fun is trying to figure out who the killer is, and Murder on the Orient Express does a decent job at laying out various clues and making you question everyone’s motives. Kenneth Branagh is an excellent Hercule Poirot and brings a lot of humor to the role. Half Sherlock Holmes, half Dr. House, he approaches every situation with a dry bluntness that lends itself to some great moments, particularly with his “friend” Bouc. There’s no sugarcoating when it comes to Poirot.


In addition to the humor, Murder on the Orient Express does a great job visually as well. The cinematography is gorgeous, and with the majority of the film confined to a train the camera tends get creative with its shots in many of the scenes as it weaves in and out of the railcars. Even if you’re familiar with the story, the manner in which Branagh presents the film makes it well worth viewing.


That being said, the film begins to go off the rails three quarters of the way through as the mystery begins to wrap up and the killer is brought to light. Things move rather quickly as Poirot gives a lengthy exposition for his reasoning behind who the murderer is. While the story makes it work, it still doesn’t feel like it makes much sense. So much is revealed towards the end that half of the clues in the beginning don’t matter. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat let down by the lackluster reveal.


Murder on the Orient Express gets off to a solid start with interesting characters and exhilarating visuals, but a dull and rushed ending bring things to a screeching halt. Despite this, I still believe the film is worth seeing, both for Branagh’s acting and directing, and especially so if you’re like me and are unfamiliar with the story. The film also is clearly setting up Poirot to be a franchise character as well, and frankly I’d be okay with seeing another adventure with him solving cases.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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