Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”
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 was 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 at the thought of sharing a cabin with a killer while they are still very far from the next stop. Naturally, they turn to the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, to find the killer before anyone else is killed.
The Pros & Cons
The Premise (+3pts)
Hercule Poirot (+4pts)
Side Characters (-4pts)
Pro: The Premise (+3pts)
I know what you are thinking, this film is a remake, so why should this film’s premise (which lacks originality) find itself in The Pros list? No, the film is not original, but its premise is still interesting. 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, but this film had the opportunity to tell a very different (yet equally fascinating) one. This had me very intrigued both before seeing this film and during its setup.
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 film 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 film as soon as Hercule examines the stab wounds on the body. This scene occurs maybe thirty minutes into the film and occurs (obviously) before anyone is questioned. So I knew exactly who the murderer was before the detective started questioning anyone. For me, this eliminated all of the fun of the mystery and left me wondering why anyone would bother remaking a classic mystery if they are only going to do exactly what the original film did. To me, it is just lazy writing.
Okay now let’s assume you have not seen the original film. Will you be able to enjoy this film? Definitely more than I did, but this film is still very predictable. As Hercule begins learning more about the passengers of the train, he begins to notice a lot of coincidences about their history, and as the great Commisioner Gordon said in The Dark Knight Rises: ”You [newly appointed detective] are not allowed to believe in coincidences anymore”.
With the coincidences and the stab wound analyzation, the film spells out the answers to the mystery and it does this long before Hercule figures it out. I liked the character of Hercule Poirot, but he is setup as the world’s greatest detective so it was upsetting to see the writers use his ignorance as a plot device to keep the mystery going. Again, lazy writing.
Pro: Actors/Performances (+5pts)
Most of the entertainment came from the cast and their performances. 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 that was a lot of fun to see together on-screen. I enjoyed seeing each character as they told their stories and played their part believably. I knew the answers to all of the film’s questions and most audience members will be close in their guesses but the actors played their parts as if everything was unknown to the audience. The writers failed this movie with a very lazy script, but the actors did their part and gave the film their best. This made the film somewhat entertaining for me.
Con: Tone (-3pts)
I felt like the tone for this film was a bit off. It is a murder mystery film with serious performances but always feels silly. It is filled with over-the-top characters and colors that leap off the screen. Do not get me wrong, this is a beautiful film 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.
Then there were the characters. Each character felt like an exaggerated version of what they should be. I do not think the performances were responsible for this. The fact that this was the case for every character in the film, gives me the impression that it was the direction that the performers were given. Much like the visuals of the film, all of this is fine but simply did not fit the tone of a murder mystery. It was like watching a film that looked like a family Christmas movie but had the plot of a serious murder mystery. Both are fine on their own, but together, they create a confusing tone.
Pro: Hercule Poirot (+4pts)
I enjoyed how they setup this character in the film. Right from the start, he is established as an expert detective with a silly personality. While I did not enjoy the silly nature of most characters in this film, it worked for Hercule Poirot. He is respected worldwide as the greatest detective in the world. The film opens by showing Hercule cracking his most recent case. He does so in spectacular fashion but he maintains his somewhat silly persona. He has a musache that is so over-the-top that it is hard to take him seriously. He has a strange fascination for eggs, for bread, he has a very unassuming way of communicating with other characters, and I very quickly got the impression that this character has a ton of compassion.
I really enjoyed watching this character. He seems unassuming but is always picking up on subtle clues. The film is filled with shallow dialogue but Kenneth Branagh brought enough life to this character to keep me engaged. This was not a great film but Kenneth Branagh and his portrayal of Hercule Poirot were entertaining to watch.
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 all are portrayed in such an exaggerated manner that made them each feel like a shallow gimmick. As a result, I had no interest in any of these characters, or where they came from. Hercule was played as a bit silly, but the film just does not work when every character is portrayed this way.
I like the concept of a silly and unassuming detective cracking a serious case filled with serious characters. Unfortunately, this film is filled with exaggerated characters that make the film feel like nothing more than a ginmick. I will reiterate that I believe every actor and actress did a fine job. Sadly, I believe the direction they were given produced over-the-top, yet uninteresting characters that did not support the film’s extremely heavy dialogue.
Grade: C- (74pts)
Murder on the Orient Express is the retelling of a classic murder mystery film (with the same title) from 1974. This new film is mildly entertaining as it is filled with colorful characters and great performances from the cast. Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judy Dench all shine in this film and the rest of the cast do their part just fine. Unfortunately, that is about where my compliments for this film end.
This is a remake of a classic murder mystery, but it does not bring anything original to the story. It has the same ending as the original film and it very quickly gives that ending away. Whether you saw the original film or not, you will probably have an accurate guess (as to who the killer is) before the film’s halfway point. This ruins the fun of the mystery. Then there is the issue with the film’s tone. The characters are mildly entertaining but they feel very over-the-top which creates a confusing tone. This is a murder mystery where all of the characters play as silly or extremely exaggerated. The film‘s plot suggests that audiences should expect the tone of a serious murder mystery. Instead, they get the tone of a family Christmas movie.
The film has a great and entertaining cast, but everything else makes this feel like a lazy remake of a classic murder mystery.