Film Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ kills any criticism of a remake

Veronica Winham, Assistant Editor

“Murder on the Orient Express” is just as suspenseful as the book it is based on, published by Agatha Christie under the same name in 1934. The movie is filled with drama and mystery, and even if you’ve already read the book, there are still surprises and twists to the original plot.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Murder on the Orient Express” focuses on the life of famous detective Hercule Poirot and a case that he must solve after an avalanche halts the train that he is traveling on through Europe. Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), complete with a larger-than-life mustache, is extremely set on right or wrong, innocent or guilty, black or white. While it may seem peculiar to some that Poirot can only see the world in one of two ways, this eccentric habit is helpful when identifying what is out of place in a crime scene.

The film opens with Poirot solving a crime in Jerusalem by using this unique approach. After a while, he eventually boards the Orient Express, whose real life counterpart was first created in 1883 and has been running since. Once onboard the train and headed to London, Poirot is confronted almost instantly by a man named Cassetti (Johnny Depp). Cassetti is deeply troubled by his past and anxious that he is being hunted, but he is ultimately so unpleasant that Poirot refuses to help him. Later that night, the avalanche strikes and Cassetti is killed in his sleep, presumably by a passenger.

Everyone on the train soon becomes a suspect, and Poirot has to act quickly before the killer can strike again. While the guests wait for help to save them from being stranded, Poirot investigates but becomes increasingly frustrated as all of the clues lead in different directions and the world might not be as straightforward as he originally thought.

Notable characters to look forward to include Dr. Armstrong (Leslie Odom Jr.), Governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), and the woman who shares a compartment with Cassetti the night of the attack, Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer).

The performances by all of these actors, especially Pfeiffer, are very convincing and believable. Everyone was well cast and fit seamlessly into their roles. Branagh had a large work load as both the director and the protagonist, as well as having to master a Belgian accent and make all of Poirot’s quirks come to life, yet he does so flawlessly.

Imagery and settings are also important in “Murder on the Orient Express.” The harsh European winter and beautiful cities that the express passes through are all realistic, and the train itself is beautiful. The only complaint I have would be the angles. Some of the camera shots come from above the heads of the actors or from other awkward and impractical locations. These choices made me feel like I was watching a movie, and not on the train with the characters, seeing the emotions on their faces during some of the most crucial parts.

I would recommend “Murder on the Orient Express” to anyone who loves suspenseful crime movies and has not yet read Christie’s book. I was personally disappointed by some of the changes that were made to the final showdown scene, but if I hadn’t read the novel, I probably would have liked the conclusion more.

Overall, the cast and cinematography provides a strong tribute to the famous and beloved murder mystery and is a movie that is sure to keep people on their seats until the very end (or at least until a sequel), guessing “Who done it?”

Our Grade: A-
“Murder on the Orient Express”
Rated: PG-13
Length: 114 minutes
Genre: Drama, Crime, Mystery
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Johnny Depp, Judi Dench