If you think about the great British literary authors, certain names come up. Chaucer. Shakespeare. Dickens. And one name that is certainly getting up to that level, if it’s not there already, is Agatha Christie. She has written some of the best mysteries of all time and all clichés that dominate the genre come right from her. That’s why her books get turned into so many movies and TV shows. Heck, there was one on last night on BBC1! So of course it’s no surprise to see Murder On The Orient Express make its return to the cinema but is it any good?
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, Henry V) is using the famous Orient Express to head back to London to deal with another case. However while on the train, art dealer Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) is murdered. With the train being derailed, Poirot is left with a short amount of time to solve the murder before arriving at the next train station.
As you could expect from a classic book which has had many classic adaptations, it has an amazing premise. It’s basically mystery 101. Get a bunch of very different characters, put them in an isolated place, have some one murdered then make them solve it in a set amount of time. It is a cliché and one that has been parodied a million times but it’s become a cliché because of how good it is as a premise. And this film is one of the best examples of it. That’s because it’s so effortless in its set-up. It easily places all these vastly different characters into the train whether they be a governess, an empress or a butler. Yes there’s a butler, it’s a mystery film, of course there is. The movie is very good at making sure these characters are broad enough to make it the required eclectic cast and the majority are memorable at the very least.
Really, Branagh doesn’t have to do much to make this an interesting film because of the source material he is given. The mystery is rock solid and definitely intriguing and while the movie is noticeably quicker paced than some other adaptations, the revelations happen at the right time. Just as the movie seems to be running out of steam, Poirot either discovers another clue or a twist to the tale which changes how you view the case. The movie is also very good at being able to change your mind at the right time. The fun of mystery movies is always about discovering who is the murderer and this one is very good at making certain people look like the killer for a while before showing another clue which either absolves them or shifts the blame onto someone else. It’s just a really fun ride as you allow yourself to be taken on this mystery rollercoaster.
But what does this new adaptation actually add? Because while I’ve said a lot of nice things about this film, I could easily say a lot of those things about other adaptations of this particular book. What does this one in particular add? Well there’s the look of it. With all that money that gets chucked into a project like this, it’s always going to look different but man Branagh makes this film look good. OK, the CGI on the snow is a bit dodgy but everything else looks very pretty. The train is a fantastic place to be and a place I wouldn’t mind travelling on at one point, even though the only experience I have had with the Orient Express was a power cut in Lincoln. Its far more boring than you’d expect that story. There’s even a really a cool shot when the murder is discovered that is an overhead shot which makes it feel like a game of Cluedo. I love that sort of thing and it does make the film feel a bit fresher than some of the older adaptations which do feel a bit stale and tired nowadays.
However one big problem I have is with the character of Poirot and it’s not just centered around that massive mustache. That’s one of the finest examples of movie facial hair ever even if it does become its own character at some point. No, it’s everything else. It was always going to be difficult for Branagh because he has to follow David Suchet, a man who had Poirot his own on various TV adaptations over the years. But it’s just something that doesn’t work it. Branagh’s accent is ridiculous and often means the most powerful parts of his performances are undercut because you are smirking at how silly it is. Imagine if the To Be Or Not To Be monologue was delivered in an Allo Allo style French accent. Yes the words might be good and there’s enough emphasis behind them but the accent wrecks everything.
Now I’m about to do something which could get me strung up in some quarters. Because I’m also not a fan of the resolution of the mystery. People who know the book or movie well know that there is a fairly unique ending which I understand. I know the thematic point that Agatha Christie was making with this ending but there is still something a bit cheap about it. There’s an element where you feel let down because you have made a theory in your head and then this happens which just feels like a cop out. It’s not a deus ex machina, but it definitely has the same effect on me as one of those.
But there’s still a lot of fun to be had with Murder on the Orient Express. This a good mystery film which if you are a fan of the genre you’ll enjoy because it does all the tropes very well. It presents an intriguing mystery, has plenty of interesting characters with dubious back stories and there’s a stupid mustache which has to be seen to be believed. Yeah the ending will divide many and I don’t think Branagh will be replacing Suchet in Christie superfan’s hearts but there’s still a lot to enjoy.