Murder on the Orient Express is a murder/mystery based on the best-selling 1934 novel by Agatha Christie. Directed by Kenneth Branagh it is the story of 13 strangers stranded on a train where there has been a murder, now everyone is a suspect and inspector Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) must race against the clock to uncover the identity of the murderer. I love a good murder mystery that makes you think and the fact that I am never able to predict these things makes it all the more exciting. The mystery here at the centre of the plot is great, it slowly builds in pace and intensity and I was very invested in solving it during the latter half but for the first half of this movie there was a lack of urgency and I found myself not as invested as I wanted to be. The film boasts a diverse all star cast from Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer to Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad, all of whom were incredible and whose characters and interactions were all unique and helped keep this story on track. Really there isn’t anything inherently bad here, just elements that could have been improved.
The first half of the film is where I feel a lot of the improvements could have been made, and really I feel the mystery could have kicked off earlier so by the final act it would have built up enough steam to have an explosive finale as well as some early tension. And I get it, here you have 13 very unique, very distinct characters that need to be set up and that can be a daunting task, for the most part this is handled really well. Everyone has a fairly even amount of screen-time dedicated to introducing their characters and their backstories but where the film could have been shaved down is in the time spent with inspector Poirot. I know this is Poirot’s story, he is the central character and everything we see is from his perspective but for me too much time is spent early on establishing that he is a very perceptive and particular person. If 10 to 15 minutes is shaved off the opening half I feel like everything would be a little tighter, leading to allowing more time to be spent on building up the mystery element early on. But it’s still fine the way it plays out.
The diverse range of characters and the talent behind each of these personas is probably the biggest highlight of the film. With so many unique personalities all communicating, each interaction was different and just as engaging as the last. You forget that Daisy Ridley is Rey, Josh Gad is no longer Olaf, Willem Dafoe‘s Green Goblin character vanishes, each one of these performers disappear into their roles that are all very grounded with a hint of weirdness fuelling the mystery at hand. The most featured character and the most compelling of the bunch is undoubtedly inspector Poirot. Being the only one on the investigative side of the murder he is the one you connect to the most as you try to figure things out with all of the information you receive. He is very charismatic, likeable, and engaging from start to finish and a joy to watch in every scene. Another noticeable improvement that could have been made is the way humour is integrated, they do go for the subtle humour a few times and I’d say it pays off maybe 50% of the time. Tonally it doesn’t fit half the time and every time it doesn’t work it takes you out of it briefly.
On top of this it is a well made film, the way it is shot within the confines of a train carriage effectively conveys a very claustrophobic feel that does add to the tension of many scenes. There were I’d say a few too many sweeping shots of the train on the way to its destination but they were vast and stunning so I can’t really complain. I also really loved the set design and use of period-specific costuming here as it adds to the atmosphere and authenticity of everything going on.
So in the end I did enjoy Murder on the Orient Express, maybe not as much as I’d hoped I would especially in the first half but once the mystery gets under way I was sucked into figuring out the murderer’s identity and the latter half did not disappoint. The characters are great throughout and their unique personalities delivered fantastically by the large A-list cast allow for many compelling sequences of dialogue that will hold your attention. If you are a fan of murder/mysteries in general this is a good one you will enjoy, if you are a fan of the story and know the resolution of the Agatha Christie novel I’m not sure how it will pay off for you but it is definitely worth a watch.