Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express

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Back in 1974, when the original “Murder on the Orient Express” was released, it was a box office and critical hit. Considering the success the reboot genre has been having lately, it seems only right that a remake of Agatha Christie’s much-loved novel would find it’s way into theaters again. With the nostalgia of a classic murder mystery and one of the finest ensemble casts we’ve seen onscreen in years, it was almost guaranteed that this movie would be a shoe-in for box office gold.

Unfortunately, instead of the sure-fire hit audiences were expecting, what they were given instead is a rather underwhelming and dare I say, boring film, that seems to waste its casts talent and plays it far too safe without daring to be original in any way. But hey, at least it’s nice to look at!

Taking place in the 1930s, 17 strangers board the Orient Express on a 3-day journey to London. During their second night, a passenger is killed and Detective Hercule Poirot (a slightly over-acting Kenneth Branagh who also directed the film) rounds each of the passengers up and interviews them one by one in an attempt to figure out who among them is the murderer.

The problem with “Murder on the Orient Express” is that the story itself really isn’t very exciting and yet Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green try extremely hard to make it more exciting than it really is. The entire movie is just detective Hercule interrogating each character one by one, but the interrogations are never really that intense or interesting. Branagh tries really hard by allowing these scenes to play out in different sections of the train or sometimes even outside. The music swells and quickens its pace when certain dialog is given and the actors deliver some solid “eye acting” every time they’re on screen, but none of that really seems to help.

No matter how hard they try, they just can’t make this story more exciting than it is. It’s extremely slow-paced, which normally I don’t mind, but nothing about this story had my interest or attention. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a good one either. The entire time I was watching I kept thinking to myself, “Okay well when is something going to happen to jumpstart this story?” A murder happens, yes, but we already know that going into the movie. We need something else to pull us in, but that something never comes.

It’s a shame because the cast is stacked with Hollywood A-listers including Johnny Depp, William Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer(!). The entire cast does a fantastic job in the roles they’re in and it’s impressive that this movie was able to get so many headliners into it. Each of them look like they belong in this time period and even though Ridley and Branagh’s accents are a little too hard to understand sometimes, they’re all fun to watch.  If I’m being honest, I think the only reason the studio fought so hard to cast so many big names in this movie is because they knew if they didn’t have enough star power in it, nobody would want to come and watch this movie. Why? Oh yeah, because it’s boooorrrrriiinnngggggg.

I’m all for having large ensembles, the more the merrier I say. If you’re going to have a large cast though, make sure you know what you’re doing and how to balance each of them. For the most part, they were all pretty equal and contribute something to the story. Sadly for Green, he seems to have really struggled with that concept, because a majority of the characters in this movie are pushed off to the side and serve no real purpose. They could have gotten rid of at least five of the characters and the story wouldn’t have suffered in the slightest. It actually probably would’ve been better, because than we could have focused more on certain characters and cared for them more than we actually do. It’s disappointing that Green wasn’t able to find a way to balance his characters because like I said, this cast is amazing and their talent just felt wasted.

From what I understand the movie followed the book very closely, even keeping the same exact ending. I won’t go into the ending because I don’t want to ruin it for you but I will say when the big reveal happens I legit booed the screen. In my honest opinion, Ms. Christie (RIP) backed herself into a corner and she had no idea how to finish her story without rewriting the whole thing so she chose the most obvious and easy way out.

That was another thing I was disappointed by. The movie took no liberty to stray from the novel in the slightest and played it too close to the chest. I’m not suggesting that they changed the story completely, but when I think of the more successful books-turned-movies, they add some changes and take a different road without losing the core of the story found in the novel. I wish Green would’ve been willing to take more of a risk with his story and tried to be a little more original.

For example, on the night of the murder, the train is derailed by a snowstorm and comes to a sudden halt. I believe the story would’ve been more interesting if the train kept moving. It would’ve been more interesting if someone else was killed, because then it would heighten the stakes and make it all the more dire for Hercule to solve the case before it’s too late. Even the final confrontation with the murderer would’ve been more exciting if the train was at a constant move, although the shot we’re given of Hercule confronting the murderer is pretty epic. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I could’ve written a way better ending than the one we see on screen. Green chose to stay too close to the novel and not give himself permission to be creative with it and as a result he ending up shooting himself in the foot.

Despite all of that, the movie is extremely well made. The train itself is a masterpiece to look at and I give huge props to the set production team who brought it together. The costumes were spot-on, and Branagh delivers some beautiful and mesmerizing camera angles and shots. I’ve never thought much of him as an actor, but as a director I think he’s exceptionally great at it. From the interior shots to the exterior ones, the movie is a beauty to look at and I spent most of my time admiring the way the movie was made more than anything else.

I would never say I hated this movie. I’ve seen a lot worse and what it comes down to is just that some stories are better left as books and simply don’t have the power to translate well on-screen.

The  bottom line: “Murder on the Orient Express” isn’t the epic I was hoping it to be. After the debut of what was probably the best made trailer of the year, I had had high hopes for it and was let down by what I ended up watching. However, if you’ve already seen Thor and feel like seeing a movie, you could do a lot worse than this one. A beautifully-made film with a well-acted cast that are all just sadly overshadowed by an overwhelmingly boring storyline.