Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” comes to life on the big screen
Breanna Brink, Staff Writer
There has been a lapse in proper murder mystery performances on the big screen, and since Britain seems to produce some of the best source material, what a better way to remedy that by adapting Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie’s novel “Murder on the Orient Express.” This novel is not the first mystery written in her backlog, but is perhaps one of her most popular works revolving around her fictional detective Hercule “hold the e” Poirot. While the film has been receiving neutral reviews from American critics, fans of the movie will be happy to know it has more than doubled its production value, which was primarily spent on having a big name cast and beautiful set work. With that in mind, Poirot, portrayed by Kenneth Branagh, can be expected to potentially continue his on-screen mysteries in the future.
The IMDb basic summary holds no spoilers, but is an accurate description of the film, “A lavish trip through Europe quickly unfolds into a race against time to solve a murder aboard a train. When an avalanche stops the Orient Express dead in its tracks, the world’s greatest detective — Hercule Poirot — arrives to interrogate all passengers and search for clues before the killer can strike again.” This discussion will be kept spoiler free, because even if this is based off a book, they are not as popularized as Sherlock Holmes. With a spectacular cast consisting of Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley, there is no short in talent. Unfortunately, with so many big names, sometimes it feels as if characters are underdeveloped, or shoved into places they don’t belong. This is likely the result of a short runtime, not a problem with the casting or the source material.
Christie’s novel is one of many she has written. She is well known as an English crime novelist, short story writer, and play-write. She was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to literature, so it’s about time her 66 crime novels began to get some recognition. Though it isn’t as if “The Orient” has been left in the shadows. There has been a radio show, two films made in 1974 and 2017 respectively, three separate television shows produced by different countries and a point and click video game. Despite all of these installments, “The Murder on the Orient Express” still holds the power to surprise everyone who saw it in theaters.
Rohan Naahar from the Hindustan Times had a proper take on the film. Discussing issues American audiences had with the film and pointing out our unnecessary need for constant action over thought provoking character discussion, “Branagh retained the old-world charm and the exotic romanticism of Christie’s novels, he has found dimensions to the Dame’s stories that I – despite having read all her books to the point that they were under physical threat of disintegration – had never expected, and honestly, never even thought of.” He proceeds to discuss something that some movies neglect to attempt to achieve, humanity in their detective characters. “Branagh begins his deviation from tradition from the first scene of the Murder on the Orient Express, in which he establishes a new sort of Hercule Poirot. One that is a real human being.”
In addition to having a great cast and a set that’s real and begging to be interacted with, the most prominent theme of the movie is the mystery and the reveal at the end, which is arguably the most important part of any mystery film. This movie is asking you to theorize, think over the clues, and come to a personal conclusion. Vox gave the film a stellar review, saying, “The murder solution in ‘Orient’ is so elegant, neatly crafted and inevitable-feeling, and yet so surprising at the same time, that it has become a byword. It’s its own trope now: You can say, ‘It’s a “Murder on the Orient Express”–style reveal,’ and it means something.” The solution in the end will require you to look at your own personal values and ideas of what it means to be right or wrong. Depending on if you enjoy the ending, or find it convoluted, the idea is still undeniably interesting and a discussion on the inherent evil of human kind. This is the perfect example of a who-done-it done right, and even if the movie sometimes struggles to include all the important plot points, you can always read the novel and see the story in its full glory.