FlixChatter Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There are films you’d readily see just for the cast and this is one such a film. I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s work though I can’t claim I’ve actually finished even one of her books from start to finish. I did however, see the episode from British ITV production of the Agatha Christie series starring David Suchet a couple of years ago, so the plot is still quite fresh in my mind. The latest adaptation featured Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian super detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh also served as director, based on a script by Michael Green (who’s had quite a year as he also wrote Logan and Blade Runner 2049).

The opening sequence in Jerusalem seemed too whimsical and decidedly over-the-top, and I’m not just talking about Poirot’s outlandish mustache. I read in a review somewhere that Branagh can’t decide which fake mustache given to him from the makeup department so he basically just wore them all in a row. I think that enormous mustache probably has its own trailer, too! That establishing scene introduced us to a god-like figure who’s an absolute genius in cracking criminal cases. It also revealed his quirky OCD personality, so obsessed he is with balance that when he stepped one foot on manure, he immediately had to do the same with the other foot.

For a story famous for being set on a train, the film took its time to finally get there. But once there, the train set pieces is really quite glorious, filled with lavish set pieces and even more gorgeous passengers decked in 1930s costumes. Despite the rather sluggish pacing, I enjoyed myself thanks to the amazing cast. A movie with Dame Judi Dench is an automatic must-see in my book, though sadly she didn’t get to do anything in this film. But to be fair, most of the actors here seemed to have spent more time in costumes than learning their lines. She’s still memorable here, as is Olivia Colman as Dench’s German maid.

It’s tough to be memorable in a large ensemble cast as this one, but I’d say the film’s MVPs are Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot. Oh, and hello Tom Bateman as train director Bouc (never seen this tall, dark and handsome Brit before but I sure hope I’ll see more of him!) It’s interesting casting to have Johnny Depp as Ratchett given his dire reputation of late. Branagh’s performance is often borderline over the top as well which in itself can be distracting. But I thought his monologue after the big reveal is pretty good and provides the high emotional point of the film. I love La Pfeiffer in this scene too, I’ve missed seeing her in movies. She’s one of those veteran actresses I wish would still get many intriguing roles.

I’m not going to talk about the plot here, but Branagh took some interesting creative licenses with how the story came to the big reveal. He also tried to vary the scenes of each passenger interrogation as to not bore the viewers, some work better than others. I love Branagh’s direction in Cinderella but here he seems too preoccupied with camera work (esp. the bird’s eye view angle) that the film feels rather haphazard at times. The dynamic camera angles adds energy to an otherwise stuffy whodunnit drama, but at times can be quite distracting as well.

Overall it’s a decent adaptation, but I’m not sure if it’s really all that necessary. I feel like the rich story would’ve been better served as a miniseries. There are parts that feel emotional, especially as we get to know who the passengers really are, but I think the film lacks any real suspense. That said, I still enjoyed it thanks to the committed cast, the stunning set pieces and the gorgeous score from one of my fave composers (and Branagh’s regular collaborator) Patrick Doyle. The ending seems to hint at ‘Poirot will return’ a la another titular character James Bond. Not sure I’d be so eager to return to another Poirot adaptation from Branagh though. I guess I’d recommend this if you like the cast, though if you’re a Christie fan you’d probably be more satisfied with re-reading the novel.

Have you seen the latest adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’? Well, what did you think? 

16 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

  1. Wow I totally forgot about this film even though it just came out a week or two ago. Not sure it’s something I’d want to see at a theater, never read the book or have seen the previous big screen version. But glad that Branagh shot the move in high quality 65mm, it’ll sure look great when it comes out on BD/4K.

  2. Nice review, Ruth. I haven’t rushed to the movies to see this one; I can wait to rent it. Despite the great cast, all I’ve read is that they aren’t allowed to be interesting characters. I’ve been wanting to read the book, actually, then take a look at the film.

    1. Hello Cindy! Hope you’re enjoying your Thanksgiving weekend. Yeah I think the only interesting character is Pfeiffer but the rest is just ok. Branagh is a bit over the top here, but overall still fun to watch. I’m sure the book is better though.

            1. Hi Cindy! Yeah we’re staying in MN, we’re only moving east about 18 miles away from where we are now but it’s gonna be a lot shorter commute to work for both my hubby and I.

              Well we’re not doing any new film anytime soon, we’re still hoping to get the feature film version made of Hearts Want though. That has always been the goal. In the meantime we’re submitting our short to a bunch of film festivals.

  3. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth and everyone:

    Kenneth Branagh is back proving that he can direct a cream of the crop cast in a classic locked room murder mystery.

    An exceptional cast looking like they are all having a ball while adding as much meat as possible to their thumb nailed characters. Willem Dafoe. Judy Dench, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer seem the most intriguing. Though the main character is the opulent, richly detailed Orient Express.

    Film will probably more than break even and set the stage for another Christie/Poiroit mystery, ‘Death on The Nile’.

    1. Well hello Jack, been ages since I heard from you, hope you are well.

      Branagh is generally a good director but I’m not too fond of his work here. The cast is indeed exceptional and you’re right the train itself is a character in the film. I’m not clamoring for the sequel though, we’ll see I guess.

  4. Your review is pretty much what I expected. The cast is the main reason I’d want to see it (minus Johnny Depp; he can retire any time now). Sounds like I can miss seeing this in theaters, but I’ll probably check it out once it’s on DVD, just because I do like a lot of the other actors in this. Great review, Ruth!

    1. Yeah I’m so sick of seeing Depp, though he’s suitably cast in this role though, for obvious reasons. It’s worth renting for the rest of the cast though, watch for that Tom Bateman guy, oh la la 😉

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