Based on the beloved Agatha Christie novel by the same name, Murder on the Orient Express follows world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot (played Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) on a trip from Istanbul to London. What was supposed to be a relaxing break from his rigorous investigative work turns out to be one of his most difficult cases yet, as one of the passengers on the train is mysteriously murdered. It is now up to Poirot interrogate all passengers and gather clues so that he may uncover the murderer before the train arrives to its destination.
Going in with very little previous knowledge on the subject, I had high hopes for Murder on the Orient Express, which were quickly dashed within the first twenty minutes of the movie. What I hoped would be an exciting, engaging mystery with great performances turned out to be almost the exact opposite.
Most of the characters felt very flat and intensely boring, all except for our main protagonist Poirot. Though restricted by some melodramatic and tedious dialogue, Kenneth Branagh gave a mighty strong performance. His compulsions and extreme orderliness gave this drab film some much needed levity. Even some of his more serious moments, when not bogged down by overly emotional dialogue, were very convincing and entertaining.
As for our line-up of potential suspects, I was shockingly surprised by the lack of charisma put into the performances. So many big, talented names were tied to this production (such as Willem Dafoe, Daisey Ridley, and Johnny Depp), yet it was acted and filmed so unimaginatively. Take Johnny Depp for example, who is known for playing many extravagant, wild characters. He is reduced to playing a mundane, uninteresting fellow that made me tired just watching him.
I was quite a fan of the set pieces and costume designs, which fit the overall look of the 1930’s very well. The soundtrack was also quite fitting, fusing whimsical, adventurous composition with melodic music that fit the times.
Unfortunately where the film finally lost me was in the semi-climactic end, where an already convoluted mystery wrapped up into an ultimately inconsequential resolve. I do respect the angle that they attempted to go at with the ending, but the hole was already dug too deep.
The real issue at the heart of Murder on the Orient Express is in the mystery itself. More specifically, the actual murder that is the central focus of the film takes place in the past. This kind of a setup is fine in a book, where the reader can be described, in detail, the murder through flashbacks. In the film however, the viewer is only dished out vague, out of order pieces of information as Poirot continues in his investigation. This makes the mystery incredibly inconvenient to follow along with, especially when most of the actors are about as compelling as a piece of burnt toast. Even after having just watched the film, I can’t remember a single character’s name, aside from Poirot.
Those with a love of Poirot and a patience for this kind of mystery may get their money’s worth, so long as they’re willing to look past the somewhat poor filmmaking and dreadful characters.
The Verdict: D+