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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Murder on the Orient Express

Theatrical Release: 11/10/2017

Theatrical Release: 11/10/2017

Synopsis

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the world’s greatest detective, and is fresh off a very high profile case, which brought him to foreign soil to locate a sacred, religious artifact that had been stolen. After the case is closed, Hercule reaches out to an old friend who is able to get Hercule a room on his luxury train, the Orient Express. Hercule‘s journey home will be long, but he is joined by a colorful assortment of fellow passengers which include: Pilar (Penelope Cruz), Gerhard (Willem Dafoe), Mary (Daisy Ridley), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), Caroline (Michelle Pfeiffer), Princess Dragomiroff (Judy Dench), Hector (Josh Gad), and Edward (Johnny Depp). When one of the passengers turns up dead, as a result of multiple stab wounds, the remaining passengers panic. The train is far from reaching its destination, and with nowhere to run, the thought of sharing a cabin with a killer is an unsettling one. Naturally, they turn to the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, to find the killer before they strike again.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The ProsThe Cons

The Premise (+3pts)

Predictable (-6pts)

The Actors & The Performances (+5pts)

Tone (-3pts)

Hercule Poirot (+4pts)

Side Characters (-4pts)

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Pro: The Premise (+3pts)

This movie was a remake, and no, the movie's premise was not exactly original, but I was still interested in it. A mysterious murder occurs on a train. With the killer still on board, a detective must find the motive and the killer before the train reaches its destination. There are so many different directions that the filmmakers could follow with such a premise. The original film, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), was a compelling mystery, and this movie had the opportunity to take this premise in a completely different direction. This had me very intrigued both before seeing this movie and during its setup.

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Con: Predictable (-6pts)

While I was intrigued to see a new version of Murder on the Orient Express, I was very disappointed when I learned that this story was going in the exact same direction as the original. If you have seen (and remember) the original film, you will know the ending of this one, as soon as Hercule examines the stab wounds on the body. This scene occurred maybe thirty minutes into the movie. I then knew exactly who the murderer was before the detective started questioning anyone. For me, it took all of the fun out of the mystery and left me wondering why anyone would bother remaking a classic mystery if they were only going to do exactly what the original filmmakers did.

If you did not see (or do not remember) the original, you will probably enjoy this movie more than I did, but I still think this movie would be predictable even if you are unfamiliar with the story from the first one. This was because I did not think the filmmakers did a great job of keeping the truth a mystery. As Hercule began learning more about the passengers of the train, he began to notice a lot of coincidences about their history, and any mystery fan knows not to believe in coincidences. Then, while most audiences will know the truth, we then had to watch a main character (a supposed master detective) take forever to reach the conclusion that we had already reached. It made for a boring mystery, and a main character that the audience will think is the worst detective ever.

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Pro: The Actors & The Performances (+5pts)

Most of my interest in this movie came from the cast and their performances. This movie had a packed cast that consisted of Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, and Michelle Pfeiffer. This was a very full and very talented cast, and they were a lot of fun to see together on screen. I enjoyed seeing each character as they told their stories and I thought each actor played their respective parts convincingly. I knew the answers to all of the story's questions, and I think most audience members will be close in their guesses as well, but the actors played their parts as if everything was unknown to the audience, and I thought they did this well. The writers failed this movie with a very lazy script, but the actors did their best with what was given to them, and they made this movie at least somewhat entertaining as a result.

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Con: Tone (-3pts)

I felt like the tone for this movie was a bit off. It was a murder-mystery with serious performances, but always felt somewhat silly, as it was filled with over-the-top characters and colors that leapt off the screen. Do not get me wrong, this was a beautiful movie to look at. With the scenery and the costumes, the colors are so bright, so full of life, and they blend together beautifully. Unfortunately, the bright colors did not fit with the serious tone of a murder mystery, and the result was a visually stunning, but ultimately confusing movie.

Then there were the characters. Each character felt like an exaggerated version of what they should have been, and to be clear, I do not think the performances were responsible for this. The fact that this was the case for every character in the movie gave me the impression that it was an issue with the direction that all of the actors were given. The over-the-top characters, the bright colors and visuals, and the serious nature of the story, made this movie feel like it was trying to be a serious murder-mystery as well as a parody of a murder-mystery. It felt like the filmmakers were trying to deliver both simultaneously, and I did not think it worked.

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Pro: Hercule Poirot (+4pts)

I enjoyed how they setup this character in the film. Right from the start, he was established as an expert detective with a silly personality. While I did not enjoy the silly nature of most of the characters in this movie, I thought it worked for Hercule Poirot. The filmmakers opened the movie by showing Hercule cracking his most recent case. He did this in spectacular fashion, but he maintained his somewhat silly persona.

Hercule also had a mustache that was so over-the-top that it was sometimes hard to take him seriously, but it really just helped get the character's sillier moments to work. In addition to that, he had a strange fascination for eggs, and for bread, which went into the sillier aspects of the character, but he also had a very unassuming way of communicating with other characters, which made him getting information out of them make sense. I just enjoyed watching this character. The movie was filled with shallow dialogue, and there was a lot that I did not like about it, but Kenneth Branagh brought enough life to his character to keep me engaged.

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Con: Side Characters (-4pts)

While I liked the over-the-top style of Hercule Poirot, the same was not true for the side characters of the film. They were all portrayed in such an exaggerated manner that made them each feel like a shallow gimmick, rather than properly fleshed out characters. As a result, I had no interest in any of these characters, or where they came from. Hercule was played as a bit silly, and that was fine, but a movie just does not work when every character is portrayed this way, and that was what happened here.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: C- (74pts)

Murder on the Orient Express was the retelling of a classic murder-mystery (of the same title) from 1974. This new movie was mildly entertaining at times, as it was filled with colorful characters and great performances from the cast. Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judy Dench all shined in this movie and the rest of the cast did their parts just fine as well. Unfortunately, that is about where my compliments for this film end.

This was a remake of a classic murder mystery, but the filmmakers did not bring anything original to this retelling of the story. It had the same ending, and it very quickly gave that ending away. Whether you saw the original or not, you will probably have an accurate guess (as to who the killer is) before you have even gotten halfway through the movie, which ruined the fun of the mystery. Then there was the issue of so many characters being silly and over-the-top, which made for a confusing movie, tonally. This movie had a serious, murder-mystery plot, but all of the characters in that plot were played as silly. The movie had a great and entertaining cast, but everything else made this feel like a lazy remake of a classic murder-mystery.

Comments

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 06, 2017:

I've been a big fan of Poirot over the years, so wouldn't mind seeing this.