Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars
Bottom Line: Wonderfully acted. Brilliant introduction. Cute rest of the movie.
What happens when you take a diverse cast of actors, give them all distinct and colorful characters to play, put them all on a train together, kill one of them off, and just happen to have one of the most beloved literary detectives on board to solve said murder? Not much, unfortunately. What you do get is a fun little movie with some gorgeous set design and costuming, but one that leaves you feeling a little empty inside when it’s over.
Most of the fun in the movie comes from the first act and it is just a delight! For one, you are introduced to Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). If you have not read a Agatha Christie Poirot novel, you should. In fact, you should probably read “Murder on the Orient Express” and then just watch the first half of this movie. Hercule Poirot is a character in every meaning of the word. Even when you get past the ridiculous mustache, you also have a ridiculous personality couched in extreme self-awareness. The introductory quick-solve case lets you know everything you need to know about the man, even if it does come very close to the cheesy line to do so.
After the Poirot introduction, we are then introduced to the parade of suspects through a series of meetings both incidental and intentional resulting in everyone eventually aboard the Orient Express itself. It is a lot of fun watching Poirot interact with this motley cast of characters on the train. Up to this point, it felt like I was in for a wonderful ride of mystery and suspense. Unfortunately, then the train and the story lost its head of steam. There are just too many people with too many moving parts to effectively capture this detective tale in under two hours. What you end up with is a few pieces of the puzzle exposed while others are kept maddeningly hidden from view. Already having read the book, albeit a long time ago, I already knew the ending so I was focused on the pieces and how they fit together and there is enough there to make out the edges of the picture, but not the middle.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is still an enjoyable movie and worth your time, but it would be nice if stories like this were given the format they deserve. I am unsure what that format would be for a Agatha Christie novel. They’re not exactly serial in nature, but nor are they a good fit for the two hour movie format. Maybe what’s best for Christie is a streaming service where three hour movies would be more welcome. The movie format choice has been made and “Murder on the Orient Express” sets up the next movie, “Death on the Nile”. It has been reported that Branagh plans on doing all the Agatha Christie novels and with “Murder on the Orient Express” being a pretty decent box office success, looks like we’ll at least see him continue his quest for one more movie.