Murder on the Orient Express – A Journey Worth Taking?

Murder on the Orient Express Review

Runtime: 116mins | Director: Kenneth Branagh | Rating: 3.5 Stars

Many people watching this film will have had an entirely different viewing experience to the one I did, purely down to the fact that I must be one of the few people remaining (up until now) who hadn’t read Agatha Christie’s original novel or seen the acclaimed Sidney Lumet adaptation. Clearly, this was a major advantage due to the fact everything was new for me – I had no prior knowledge of the plot, and as a result, the murder-mystery remained a mystery rather than a reimagining.

Murder on the Orient Express opens with the iconic detective, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), solving a case involving a rabbi, a priest and an imam in Jerusalem (no, they didn’t walk into a bar). Almost immediately after he has solved the crime, however, he is hired to solve another case which requires him to take the luxurious Orient Express to London. Unfortunately, the journey is fraught with disaster and it is derailed mid-journey by an avalanche. Shortly after, as you may have already guessed… someone is murdered, and Poirot must discover out of the thirteen other passengers accompanying him on the train ‘whodunit’.

With these sorts of films, the main source of enjoyment derives from attempting to work out who committed the crime before it’s revealed. Seeing as I had no previous knowledge of the plot, I was lucky enough to be able to do this. Saying that, however, my biggest criticism of the film is that it was alluded to far too obviously and prematurely for my liking – almost halfway through the film, I had already guessed correctly who had murdered Ratchett (Johnny Depp).

For me, this says one of two things – 1. It was far too obvious, or 2. This kind of film has become outdated due to people now being too used to solving crimes on screen. With a surplus of very good ‘whodunit’s’ now existing (Sherlock springs to mind) it is no longer original, and a genre I can’t help but feel that has become redundant. This made me question whether Branagh’s adaptation was needed in the first place, especially when an acclaimed cinematic version already exists.

Additionally, I was disappointed due to the fact the film had one of the most star-studded casts in a single film I have seen in a while (Judi Dench, Keneth Branagh, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer – the list goes on). Despite this, they were all under-used except for Branagh himself, who conveniently also happens to be the director. Frustratingly, the film seemed to be a whistle-stop tour of all the actors which left none of their usual talents we have come to love them for shining through.

The structure was also very repetitive. One of the characters is interviewed, we are given information about them and a piece of potentially incriminating evidence comes to light - that’s then it except for a line here or there in relation to something Poirot says. For me, this demonstrated a lack of originality, or even worse, laziness.
Despite these flaws, Murder on the Orient Express is visually stunning. One of the opening scenes where the train departs from Jerusalem was beautiful and a piece of cinematography to be envied. This is helped hugely by the fact the film was shot on 65mm cameras – a cinematic luxury. As I’ve said in past reviews though (Blade Runner 2049 and Loving Vincent spring to mind), visuals alone aren’t enough to make a film great or memorable, and this is the case for Murder on the Orient Express.
For me, despite ultimately being enjoyable, Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t achieve the ‘great’ status that I had hoped it would (mainly due to the incredible cast). This is down to the fact Branagh is self-indulgent, the cast is under-used, and the main draw of the film – the murder – isn’t a mystery at all as it is alluded to far too early. Perhaps in the future, rather than retelling a story which has been done multiple times before (and to a high standard) we should come up with a new and compelling mystery. For now, though, I’ll be sticking to Sherlock.


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