I will admit, going in to Murder on the Orient Express, that I have never read the Agatha Christie book and only seen bits and pieces of the previous films over the years. So, I am still asking myself what it was in the trailer that made me want to see this movie. There is one part of me that is fatigued from all of the sci-fi and comic action movies which are so prevalent in today’s pop culture. Then there is another side that likes a good mystery movie, as well as one with a setting so timeless as the early 1930s in Europe, so this movie was right on time for me.
The movie opens with famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh) solving a case of some missing gold in Jerusalem and trying to go on holiday. In the midst of it all, however, he is called to a pressing case in London by way of the Orient Express. Onboard, the train has some of the most colorful characters including, John Cassetti played by Johnny Depp, Princess Dragomiroff played by Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard and Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham. When one of the passengers winds up dead, not only does Poirot find himself knee deep in an unexpected case, but he must figure out how each of the passengers are linked to the murder.
While initially taking a bit of time to get off the ground due to character-building, the movie is immediately interesting from a storytelling point of view. Again, as someone new to the story, it was interesting seeing how all of the characters came together with their somewhat mysterious backgrounds. I really enjoyed most of the dialogue, though at times it could get cheesy. Seeing Poirot self aggrandize as the world’s greatest detective brought a smile to my face a few times in the movie. While things do take a dark turn, there are still points in the movie where a comedic bit of levity is enough to keep the story from going too far. Eventually, when it all comes together, it makes for a great testament on how justice should be meted out for the murderer…or has the punishment already been satisfied?
Cinematographically speaking, the movie has just the right mix of real world settings and CGI, as we are treated to an old Istanbul of the 30s and then onto the Alps. Production designer Jim Clay and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos set up wonderful shots throughout the course of the movie. Most notably, is the scene where the body is discovered. The shot was done from overhead with the deceased just off-screen, thus preserving some of the suspense of who was murdered. Another scene I loved is when the principals of the cast are sitting at a table reminiscent of a famous Da Vinci painting, as Poirot looks for the traitor. Nearly every shot is done with purpose to make the viewer look for some of the same clues that Poirot is looking for, and perhaps allowing one to see what he may miss.
All in all, the movie was enjoyable. I loved the suspense, and while some may find the pacing slow, it worked well for me. There were so many twists and turns while getting to the bottom of the murder that once we learn who did it, the motive becomes even more important than the perpetrator. Every character gets just enough screen time for the audience to learn about their motivations, the costumes are wonderful, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if this movie gets an Oscar nod for costume design.
As a whole, if you need the same break I needed from capes and sci-fi, this may be the one. Give it a good look especially if you are new to the story and you love a good old fashioned mystery.
4 Sleeper Cars out of 5