What can I say about Murder on the Orient Express that hasn’t already been said, it is one of the very definitions of a classic murder mystery. Agatha Christie’s has gone down in history as being basically the inventor the classic murder mystery. Hell, you go to any murder mystery party, there is always an element of her work in there, along with the late, great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Murder on the Orient Express is by far her most popular work, further featuring the stories of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and has been adapted countless times. I have seen many adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express, though from what I can gather, most people think the definitive version is the 1974 version, which I have also heard from unaccredited sources is also the most accurate to the original novel. Now I have always made it clear that I don’t think a good adaptation is the one that is the most accurate since knowing when to make changes is often the better one. For example, The Godfather is based on a book, but half of the book is entirely missing from the film and yet the film doesn’t suffer for one instant, since most of it was basically padding. That film was two and a half hours long and yet half the book is cut, though when you hear some of the things that were cut, you would be glad they were cut. Though I should also mention for anyone who was going to bring it up, I am aware that much of those elements were recycled for The Godfather Part 2.
Murder on the Orient Express is not a particularly long book, so it suits a feature length adaptation quite well, with this version coming in at one hour fifty-four minutes. Now I wasn’t particularly impressed by the idea of doing another version of Murder on the Orient Express until I heard it was being directed by Kenneth Branagh. Now Kenneth Branagh has directed many amazing films and he brings a certain theatricality to his directorial works which can be best seen in his adaptions like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as his Shakespearian adaptations like the 1996 version of Hamlet and 2000 version of Loves Laboured Lost and even turns up in subtle ways like in the first Thor movie or more recently the film he directed prior to this, the live action remake of Cinderella. I also found out that he would be starring in a lead role. However, Branagh would not be writing the film, the writing duties went to Michael Green, who is not a writer you have probably heard of, but trust me, after this year, I think you should pay some attention to him. While he may have started out as a TV writer for shows like Smallville and Heros, and he does a few stinkers in his collection, including being one of the writers for the failed 2011 Green Lantern movie, this year he seems to be on a bit of the role. He was one of the writers for the screenplay of Logan, which anyone who has read my review of that one will know I thought it was fantastic. He wrote Alien Covenant, which while I felt it had its issues was at least one of the more competently produced Alien sequels and let’s not forget that he wrote one of my favourite Sci Fi films of the year so far, Blade Runner 2049, which I thought was fantastic, as well as writing several shorts for Blade Runner that better established the world. Seriously, that is all this year, I don’t know what that many has in his coffee, but I want some. With all that team in place, as well as an announced all-star cast, how does this version stand up compared to others.
Let me start by saying that despite the fact that I am going on the assumption that most people have seen Murder on the Orient Express, I won’t be giving away any spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film. This will purely be coming from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen it and will see the film for the first time. With that in mind, let’s get a brief plot synopsis.
Detective Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh) aims to take the Orient Express to make a meeting he has in France on time. While on the train he receives news from a man called Edward Ratchett that the mob is after him and he requires protection. However, Ratchett, (played by Johnny Depp) is murdered on one of the nights. The suspects include his assistant Hector MacQueen, (played by Josh Gad), the lone traveller, Miss Mary Debenham, (played by Daisy Ridley), the travelling Doctor, Doctor Arbuthnot (played by Leslie Odom Jr), the missionary Pilar Estravados, (played by Penelope Cruz), Edward Henry Masterman, (played by Derek Jacobi), Caroline Hubbard, (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), the Princess Dragamiroff, (played by Judi Dench), her assistant Hildegarde Schmidt, (played by Olivia Colman) and a traveller named Gerhard Hardman, (played by Willem Dafoe). Poirot vows to investigate before they reach their destination after a certain amount of collusion into doing so, but with everyone seeming to have something to hide, it might be harder than he thought.
Ok, how do I put this, if you are a fan of Agatha Christie’s work, you know what to expect coming into this, in fact I actually think this would make a good double feature if you watched alongside a Dr Who episode that she was a character in. The story to a certain extent in this version feels rather expanded. Certain smaller parts that were underplayed in other productions feel like they have been stretched out but yet other parts that we are more familiar with feel rather condensed. Now, while personally I don’t mind this, from an adaptation point of view, it might surprise you how much these little differences kind of add up if you are very familiar with the story, be it having read the book, or like me seeing several productions of it. Kenneth Branagh certainly puts his finger print on this version, however, I would hardly say this is a massive ego trip for him despite the fact that he has also cast himself in the lead role. In fact I actually found it amazing how good his direction is considering how much he has to do in each scene and considering that everyone at all times needs to know what everyone knows at what particular time and what particular relevance it is, is a testament to his directing because it seems to flow very well. Now if you are familiar with Murder on the Orient Express, there are no real changes when it comes to the solution, it’s the same twist, nothing has changed, which on the one hand works, but I have always felt like, when people say this is the original plot twist, I never felt that Murder on the Orient Express’s twist works entirely, in fact it feels rather convoluted, but that’s a problem with the source material and the adaptors had to go in with it. For what it is though, I think they do it quite well. If you went in to this not knowing who the murderer is it would keep you guessing. When we find out more about the victims past, it opens up the avenue to who the potential murderer is and each character potentially feels like they could be the final solution, in fact, it feels very similar to the Cluedo murder in that sense, though you won’t be getting a different answer depending on what cinema you go to! Granted, tone wise, it kind of has a tonal shift. It starts out rather camp at the beginning, like a classis murder mystery night. However, it does shift to a serious tone, not forgetting the nature of the crime that has taken place. Now, while technically this is a tonal shift, it’s actually handled rather smoothly and it’s more a slow progression rather than a massive mood whiplash halfway through the film.
So, what did I think of the movie then, well overall I actually enjoyed the story. Granted I have seen it many times, but this version of the Orient Express is going to stand out in my head. There is nothing much new here, in terms of the plot, it’s the same as what you got before. Branagh does attempt to modernise it but in a sense, he exposes the cracks in how dated the source material king of is. The modernised tone does not mesh brilliantly given how the finale plays out. I would love to explain it, but, it’s just say there is a reason why I think this should have been more closer to say, something like Law and Order. But that’s my point, most of my problems with this film are to do with the source material, not the film itself, so I don’t want to blame the film makers in that sense, because these are a lot of things they couldn’t really have changed without making the story unrecognisable. Any changes with this one is hardly the same as half the changes that were made to Children of the Corn for example, the 80’s version at least.
So, what are my thoughts in terms of the film and what the film makers were in complete control with. In terms of the characterisation, I think they did very well, most of the characters do a brilliant job, but that’s down to a fantastic all-star cast, they were all giving off excellent performances. While Branagh’s Belgian accent is rather dodgy at times, he does give a fantastic performance as Poirot, though it does have a hint of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock to it. One of the performances I believe will go under appreciated is Olivia Colman, who does an excellent performance and her name has not been advertised enough in the production, in fact I was impressed how well she performs in German in one particular scene. Judi Dench is fantastic in her part and of course Willem Dafoe is always on form. Michelle Pfeifer is in the film as well and she delivers a decent performance. Actress Penelope Cruz is fantastic as well as character actors like Richard Clifford and even performances from more younger members of the cast including Star Wars Daisy Ridley, who I think is becoming an absolute talent to watch out for, as well as Leslie Odom Jr and Josh Gad, who I think, given that I have not really been a fan of his work in recent memory, I am seriously a fan of his performance in this film. I know I have been against the guy in my past review, saying I am not much of a fan of his, mainly when I reviewed the Angry Birds movie and put the Wedding Ringer in my worst films of 2015 list, but this year he has really won me back. While I may have absolutely hated the Beauty and the Beast live action remake, his performance as Lefou was one of the bright spots of that film and this one proved he can do a decent comical yet serious performance and what I am amazed at is that he is not full comic relief, he has a slight camp performance that fits in well with the story. I should also mention that Johnny Depp actually gives one of his most engaging performances in recent memory. His one of the few performances in recent memory where I haven’t had to ask “are you ok make”?
The cast is one of the things that really makes the film, but the true star of this film is both the cinematography and the sets. The sets on this film are staggeringly good. Kenneth Branagh’s team has lovingly recreated the Orient Express from scratch to film this movie and the use of practical effects has been fantastic. Plus, the cinematography is just amazing, this is one of the best looking films of 2017. However, some of them almost are a bit too good, what I mean by that is because these practical effects and these sets are so well done, when we swap to the digital effects, they look horrendous.
Did the film make a screw-up in a sense, well kind of. The film does feel rather over-long and there are certain points where you think something could have been cut. Also I do know certain things from the book that have been left out that I think will annoy book readers, and don’t make a lot of sense to leave out.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this one. 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express is definitely one for people that are familiar with the story, it had a lot of interesting ideas, a lot of interesting thoughts, it’s a decent adaptation with some very good character actors and some brilliantly designed sets and cinematography, both of which should get Oscar nominations. It does feel a bit overly long and the attempts to modernise it in a sense do show some of the cracks in how dated the source material kind of it and there were certain aspects of the finale that I didn’t enjoy. However, you can certainly do far worse. This was a genuinely enjoyable movie that I would recommend people see. If you have never seen any versions or read the book, this is not a bad introduction to Murder on the Orient Express. Check it out. I would also recommend you see it while it is still in the cinema’s since it is the best way to take advantage of that brilliant cinematography and the effects.
I was going to do a mini-review of Pokemon I Choose You, which I did see, however, that is going to be the subject of the next Anime Amigos Vlog so I have chosen not to do it, so sorry, no mini-review this week.
Next week I will be back to give my review of the sequel to one of the big hits from 2015, Paddington 2.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and when Paddington 2 comes out, could everyone send the link of the review to Nigel Farage, just to p… him off, come on, it would be funny!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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