Two perspectives on “Murder on the Orient Express”

We saw Murder on the Orient Express this past weekend, and since I (the Collectress) went in knowing nothing about the book or previous films, the Collected Mutineer suggested that we do a dual review from both perspectives: mine as a first-time experiencer, and hers as a longtime Agatha Christie fan. Enjoy our rambling. 🙂 

The Collectress’ Review

I know that reboots and remakes are as common as Starbucks nowadays, but I’m going to confess something that my former literature professors would cringe to read: I know almost nothing about Agatha Christie. *gasp* I do, however, have a fondness for the Poirot mysteries (I was very fond of the tv series) and have been very much looking forward to this film because of the cast and I have a not-so-small crush on Kenneth Branagh.

I just wanted to use this gif from Hamlet. Carry on. (Also, Derek Jacobi also appears in MotOE.)

The plot, if you don’t know it, is such: Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, cuts his vacation short to travel back to London for a case via the Orient Express. During the three-day train ride, one of the passengers is murdered and the train is derailed due to large snow drifts. Poirot takes the case and solves the murder before they arrive in London and the murderer disappears.

Having no preconceived notions or standards to adhere to was liberating for me as a film goer. I love murder mysteries because I love racing against the clock to figure out who the killer is before the characters do. And Murder on the Orient Express? Well, I figured out early who the victim was going to be, and I quickly deduced one of the bigger plot twists but there were one or two things that escaped me. It was delightful! I love being surprised because it happens so rarely.

While the story itself was surprising, the cinematography and music was not. At least, not if you’ve seen any of the other films directed by Kenneth Branagh, such as Hamlet (1996), Thor (2011), or Cinderella (2015). I think his style is best described as whimsical—the outdoor camera pans depict something akin to a cinematic Thomas Kinkade painting, and the music is sweeping score never lingers on the melancholy for more than a scene or two.

Branagh also tends to choose extremely proficient and accomplished actors, and this film is star-studded: Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, to name a few. Also, if you are a ballet fan, pay special attention to Count Andrenyi. Or, here, let me just show you how talented a dancer he is:

The real selling point of the film was, to me, not in the stars, or the cinematography, or even the plot, but the costumes. The costumes, done by Alexandra Byrne (who also did the costumes in Thor), do a great deal of the story-telling—if you’re paying close attention. A professor of mine once derided people who went to the cinema just to “look at the frocks”, but if Byrne is the one making the frocks, I find that I’m inclined to do just that.

The Collected Mutineer’s Review

Branagh as Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective

As someone who has read many an Agatha Christie novel and has seen every iteration of Murder on the Orient Express (with the exception of the recent Japanese TV movie), I had one or two pre-conceived notions prior to watching the Branagh film. Or three or four. While I was excited for the new film, I was also apprehensive. Could the new Orient Express capture the uniqueness of Poirot, the chilling murder, and make it interesting to both new audiences and existing fans?

At the end of the day, my feelings are mixed. I grew up watching the Peter Ustinov film Death on the Nile, but the one true Poirot for me is David Suchet. His long lasting television performance and ensuing TV films (1989-2013) cemented Poirot’s mannerisms, looks, and personality in my mind. When I read Christie’s novels, I picture David Suchet as the quirky and prim, but brilliant, detective. That being said, while Branagh’s portrayal was solid, I kept expecting the same eccentricities I’d grown to love in Suchet. I know that isn’t completely fair to Branagh and his vision for the new film, but what can I say? There was something missing in his Poirot, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Also, the mustache is just wrong, okay? Also Poirot is supposed to be quite short…)

David Suchet. Note the mustache.

That aside, the majority of the film was well executed. The changes made to the original story didn’t detract from the mystery of the integrity of the plot—although some long-time Christie fans may find the pacing of the film too slow in comparison to the book and the previous adaptations. I found the performances of Ridley, Gad, and Pfeiffer particularly compelling, and at the end of the day, I must admit that the movie is beautiful to behold. Its cinematography and costuming was stunning, a perfect picture of 1930s European splendor.

So should you see it? The answer is yes. If you’ve never experienced a Christie story before, be prepared for numerous red herrings; can you guess who the murderer is? If you’re a Christie fan, try to experience the story for the first time; don’t let your prior knowledge color the experience the way I did.

P.S. Note the reference to Death on the Nile—if they do make more films, I wouldn’t be opposed to that one.