Murder on the Orient Express Review

A first-class train compartment, a snow accident, a murder, 13 suspects, the world’s greatest detective.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of most iconic Agatha Christie Poirot novels in existence, and a childhood favorite of mine. In under 300 pages, Agatha Christie proves that one can tell a compelling story, centered around a small space and an ensemble cast of characters.

Does Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 adaptation do justice to this story? Read more to find my take on it.

murder on the orient express book movie review 2017

The Movie

“What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told.  From the novel by best-selling author Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again. Kenneth Branagh directs and leads an all-star cast including Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad.”

A simple set up, a dizzying conclusion, the story is an Agatha Christie staple.

The Best

The star-studded cast, without shadow of a doubt. Even though the characters on the poster are highlighted in detriment of the story, the entire cast performs admirably; Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. in specific are charismatic to a fault (though the addition of racial undertones to the story feels clunky and poorly executed). Michelle Pfeiffer has the meatiest role and the most breathtaking emotional scenes and she executes them so wonderfully she moved me to tears. Kenneth Branagh, the actor/director/overachiever of the movie, delivers a quirky Poirot that is far from the best version of the character but is charming and believable.

The Worst

It’s a tie between the visuals and the directing.

Visuals can make or break a movie, and this movie suffers from the 21st Century problem of artificial perfection. The outsides are a bloated CGI mess, the insides are glossy opulence. Nothing about this movie feels real,  I don’t believe that I’m watching a drama set in 1934, but a film that could only have been made in 2017, because this is the aesthetic of million dollar budgets.

The directing, though, that’s what puts this movie firmly into the “Nice try, but no thanks” pile. Murder on the Orient Express is a cerebral murder mystery story confined to a closed space and works with 13 characters who share the stage equally; it’s why the book works. Kenneth Brannah, in his eagerness to be different, deviates from this formula quite extensively. Not only are plenty of scenes outside the train where Poirot turns from mousy detective to debonnaire action hero (THE CLIMAX TAKES PLACE OUTSIDE THE TRAIN, WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?! The last supper style lineup blinded everyone involved in this), but worst of all, the characters aren’t treated equally. You can tell what actors Kenneth Brannah prefers from the sheer number of scenes they’re in and how well developed their arcs are, which means that in the end, the cast of suspects isn’t a table of equals, massively cheapening the “who did it?” end result.

The Verdict

Having seen all four adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, I don’t think any of them capture the story and Poirot adequately, though Albert Finney’s comes closest. What makes book Poirot special is his brain, his little gray cells, and Agatha Christie details every step of Poirot’s deductions until the reader can see the mystery unravelling in front of their very eyes. Movies, necessarily faster paced, can’t translate that accurately.

In the 2017 version, I honestly don’t think Kenneth Brannagh quite understood the property he was adapting (happens to the best directors), and thus I don’t find his end result anything more than okay. He delivers an okay movie and an okay adaptation, which won’t win him any awards but will surely make enough money to render the endeavor worthwhile.

That being said, outside of my nitckpickingness, is it a fun movie that’s well acted and reasonably entertaining? Yes, yes it is.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Should you go see it?

Because I had the pleasure of both reading the book and watching four versions of this movie in 3 days, I feel I’m uniquely qualified to make tailored recommendations when it comes to Murder on the Orient Express:

  • Watch Alfred Molina‘s version if you like a light approach to a serious subject, a 21st Century mystery with a hint of romance;
  • Watch David Suchet‘s version if you want a disillusioned and self-important Poirot, who got harder with age instead of softer, and holds his ideals above everything (basically, if you liked Batman v. Superman, this is the movie for you);
  • Watch Albert Finneys version if you like classic Hollywood movies with everything they entail and can stomach Finney’s frankly irritating performance;
  • Watch Kenneth Branagh if you want a glossy version with current actors and action sequences (if you liked Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes, give this Poirot a go).

If you want to have the full experience of watching Poirot figure things out and be brilliant, read the book, because Agatha Christie will never let you down.

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Tomorrow I bring you a comedy review of a movie that surprised me to hell and back!


Sara A.


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