Murder on the Orient Express: Needs More Coal in the Fire

Agatha Christie’s renown novel adapted by Kenneth Branagh, the modern Shakespearean authority, looked to hold some great promise with its star-studded cast, however, it falls short from excellence. While we’re introduced to Hercule Poirot (still don’t know how to pronounce his name) as a Sherlock-esque detective with a knack for keen observation, it ultimately felt like Branagh in a distracting mustache and odd accent. It was an okay film, just not one that I’d be so eager to watch again.

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We get a quick understanding of Piorot’s character as a perfectionist with the introductory breakfast scene, where he repeatedly sends back the two hard-boiled eggs he requests because they are not the same exact size. He has somewhat of an OCD tendency for perfection, which bites back at him when the most complex case he’s involved in proves to be an imperfect resolution in terms of moral justice. He sees the world in black and white and this is important to remember through the turn of events.

For those who’ve read the popular novel, the final verdict comes as no surprise, so we’re not left trying to play the “whodunit” game, but rather watch how Branagh and the suspects begin to unravel the “mystery.” While the interrogations went on, there was a modern audience kept in mind, so some “Hollywood” drama was sprinkled into many scenes that seemed unnecessary except to stray away from slow interview scenes. Piorot’s long-lost romantic interest that plays no part into his character or the Orient Express case, for one, does not fit into the adaptation so well. The chase scene where Piorot flags down Ratchet’s secretary, MacQueen, did not lead to any revolutionary discovery. However, the most exciting, unexpected part of the film was when the doctor shot at Piorot to sacrifice himself as the sole murderer.

With such a large, diverse cast of stereotypical characters indicted for the crime, many of them didn’t receive enough screen time to justify their stake in the case. Piorot has the honor of making himself the forefront character. With a disconnect from these multiple actors, there comes a few strands of evidence that fall flat when it comes to piecing together the case, such as the red kimono and the conductor’s uniform that don’t get too explained of their use.

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My favorite monologue comes from Michelle Pfieffer’s Mrs. Hubbard in one of the final scenes, where the 12 are sitting in a “Last Supper” sort of arrangement with Poirot opposing them. She delivered a strong, believable performance that brought some tears to my eyes, and that sort of emotion translates to a gripping involvement in a murder for justice that I wanted to see out of everyone involved.

I did appreciate the experimental camera shots given the compressed room of the train. Overhead angles were a creative approach and many panning shots of the train from the interior as well as exterior helped to establish the environment. The interior decor was gorgeous in it’s classic, refined chronology, however the blue-ish hue and almost animated CGI of the exterior of the train gave off a “Polar Express” vibe rather than a dark, serious mystery. There were also some funny lines of quick dialogue, mostly narcissistic, dry European humor, which I was expecting more of despite the serious undertone, but overall the film needed much more tension and crucial dialogue from the 12 suspects to bring everything together as thrilling as Christie’s work is known for.

 

Final Grade: C+

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