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Film Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Although people’s tastes have changed over time, the love for some stories have not.  The second weekend in Novemeber of 2017 resurrects another timeless story, Murder on the Orient Express!  Kenneth Branagh helms this period piece, hoping to bring some intrigue to a new generation.  The following review will be spoiler free.

Murder on the Orient Express

Synopsis

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh

Written By: Michael Green

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley

Things seem as pleasant as can be as a group of strangers take a trip through Europe on a luxurious train.  But, that feeling doesn’t last as a murder occurs onboard, leaving everyone very frightened.  Luckily, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is on the case as each of the thirteen strangers become suspects.  Poirot must then race against time to solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again.

Background

Even with the multiple versions of Murder on the Orient Express, the phrase “they just don’t make them like they used to” certainly applies here.  Murder mysteries are tough to come by.  There are few attempts to make them every year, and only a small fraction of them actually work.

It’s actually quite unprecedented.  When murder mysteries come together correctly, they become lauded as some of the finest achievements in cinema.  Take The Ususal Suspects, Se7en, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, or The Maltese Falcon as a few examples.  But, on the other hand, they can quickly go off the rails, turning into films like The Snowman or last year’s The Girl on the Train.  There’s seems to be a polarizing nature to this genre, but why?

If you ask me, murder mysteries are probably the toughest films to pull off from a writing perspective.  It’s a tough balance between keeping enough intrigue and fascination to the plot without revealing anything to give away the reveal too early.  It’s a balancing act that only a few skilled people in the industry can pull off.  Make one mistake and the entire movie can fall apart.  Making sure the audience never gets ahead of the movie is crucial.  If it occurs, then most people will just get bored.

Kenneth Branagh is a Revelation Both Behind and in Front of the Camera

Luckily for this version of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh is a fabulous talent that probably needs more recognition among casual moviegoers.  Murder on the Orient Express is one of the best looking movies of the year.  This period piece contains enough beautiful imagery to spare, making every shot absolute eye candy.  Branagh combines the glorious scenery with some clever long shots throughout the movie, allowing you to behold everything that the film has to offer.  There’s an old-fashioned quality to this that is unbelievably refreshing.

Long shots are crucial to a film like this one, especially during dialogue-centric scenes.  In a movie where everyone has ulterior motives, it adds a lot to the mystery to see everyone squirm as they answer Hercule Poirot’s questions.  Watching a sense of panic or uneasiness come over each character adds to the intrigue.

However, Branagh might be even better in front of the camera as Hercule Poirot.  He’s easily the most captivating character, adding a quirky sense of humor and intelligence.  Branagh has the ability to quickly rattle off tons of dialogue, mirroring the sharpness of his mind.  In a film filled with characters, he easily stands out.

Plus, that mustache!  It’s glorious!

Too Many Characters to Juggle

But, the plethora of characters becomes quite the hindrance to the story.  Murder on the Orient Express requires that you grow attached to each character in order to get caught up in the intrigue of the story.  Every actor does a great job from a performance perspective, but there’s just ultimately too many characters for any of them to leave a lasting effect on the movie.

Branagh does his best to give each character some type of backstory, but none of them feel earnest.  When it comes down to it, these aren’t characters, they’re personalities.  Some might grow attached to them because they enjoy the actor or the performance, but none of them have enough substance to be fully appreciated.  Although it would have strayed from the wonderful source material, this version of Murder on the Orient Express would have drastically benefitted from shaving off some of the ancillary or background figures.

Less Than Stellar Execution Leaves the Film Cold

With that notion in mind, Murder on the Orient Express can’t help but feel like a dud in some regard.  The story builds and builds to a reveal that should work, but it wasn’t given enough time to breath to become resonant.

The story begins with a lovely sense of humor, executed mostly through the deft touch of Kenneth Branagh.  But as the mystery begins, the film loses its charm, becoming a little dull, dragging to its finish.  It’s an odd feel, but Murder on the Orient Express is both too long and too short.  It begins to drag as it loses its personality, but you wish that it devoted more time to a certain inciting incident that sparks a lot of the relationships that become apparent in the film.

As such, Murder on the Orient Express feels like wasted potential.  Kenneth Branagh does all he can do to salvage this feature, but you just can’t help but feel like the endeavor could have played out to a more satisfying result.

Final Thoughts

This version of Murder on the Orient Express boasts impeccable visual flair, proving once again that Branagh is an amazing talent as a director.  His efforts are not lost as an actor either, becoming the most interesting and likable character by providing a quirky, engrossing performance.  But, his efforts are not fully resonant as the rest of the movie he is in isn’t incredibly interesting.  With paper thin supplementary characters, Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t quite live up to its esteemed name.  It gets a C+.

I won’t urge anyone to seek out this film in theaters, but it has enough merits to be a fine matinee.

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Nick Kush

A current college student, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society.

13 Responses

  1. kelechi_xo says:

    I feel you on how visually appealing it was! A true feast for the eyes.

    • Nick Kush says:

      It truly was! It’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t look flat and bland like most films these days

  2. Josephina says:

    Well, I like the original movie. But, appreciating several actors of this new version, I will give it a chance and will watch it too, with popcorn and my sweetheart by my side 🙂

  3. All these disappointing reviews has me disappointed as this was my most anticipated film of the year and now I’m doubting whether to see it in theaters or not, lol!

    • Nick Kush says:

      I share that disappointment! I loved everything about the prospects of this film and it made me sad to see that it’s not the greatest thing in the world

  4. How does Branagh compare with David Suchet as Poirot? (In my mind, Suchet IS Poirot.)

  5. csheldonblog says:

    been wondering about seeing this film for a while, maybe I’ll wait till it comes on demand.

  6. TheWarner says:

    I love Agatha Christie’s work, and Kenneth Branagh is one of my favorite directors (his film adaptation of Hamlet is the best I’ve ever seen). I don’t particularly care for the casting choices made for this film, but I’ll give it a shot nonetheless. It’s Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, after all. ☺

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