UHCL The Signal
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REVIEW: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is too smooth of a ride

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“Murder on the Orient Express” looks like an amazing movie, but the story and the characters are very hard to care about.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, and Kenneth Branagh who also stars as Hercule Poirot directs the film.  The plot is a basic “whodunit” mystery that takes place on board the titular train. A passenger dies, and as a favor for the train’s owner, Hercule Poirot has to find the killer while everyone is trapped on the derailed train from an avalanche.

Branagh’s Poirot is the main focus of the story and he portrays the character well, but he is no David Suchet, who has also played the character in the “Poirot” television series, which aired from 1989 to 2013. Agatha Christie described the character as a stout, perfectionist gentleman with a broad mustache. Branagh definitely has a mustache in the film, but it is a bit too broad and can be distracting at times.

The film almost looks like a stage play. The interior of the train is the stage for most of the film, but unlike the television version of the film where almost every scene is on board the train, the film takes us outside the train a few times as well.

Hercule Poirot and the locomotive of the Orient Express. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Hercule Poirot and the locomotive of the Orient Express. “Murder on the Orient Express” image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

The film also has a bigger budget compared to the television version, so more can be done in terms of effects and cinematography techniques. A few overhead shots were included in the film. While I can understand they were used to give a more cramped feel, they were not necessary and almost got in the way of the storytelling.

The supporting cast of suspects very rarely gets enough screen time, and this does not allow the audience enough time to connect with the characters besides Poirot, giving the feeling that director Branagh almost wanted to make the film all about him.

Some characters stood out more than others, such as Josh Gad’s secretary, who does a great job acting in a role that he does not usually portray. He barely felt like the funny Josh Gad we all know and love, and that was an amazing feat to accomplish. Other characters like Daisy Ridley’s governess or Penelope Cruz’s missionary fell short on screen time and were unable to flesh out as characters. Johnny Depp’s Mr. Ratchett is the only other interesting character.

The visuals of the film are stunning, especially the scenes at the beginning of the film before all the train-related events happen. When the train does finally appear, it was a powerful sight to behold. Unfortunately, the audience barely gets a chance to look at the locomotive of the train. A lot of the train shots are from far away, and the few that do show the locomotive up close are way too short.

As a railroad fan, I was a little disappointed. Other train-related films like “The Polar Express” and “Unstoppable” had trains that felt like characters. Here, the locomotive barely gets any attention, which is almost a shame considering the movie’s title. The coaches, which are the actual “Orient Express,” get a little more focus, but again not enough to give railroad fans a satisfying look.

Regarding the story, the film was a bit hard to focus on as the plot dragged on once the avalanche occurs, and there is very little suspense that comes from the story. The film tries to make Poirot an action-hero in some instances unlike the television version, which was more true to the original story in some ways. This was a bold move to make the film different from other versions, but those scenes in particular were too short, and the dialogue scenes were almost boring.

Overall, the film has amazing visuals, but the plot and characters do not stand out as much as they should. It may be worth watching at least once, but only if you want comparisons to the novel or other adaptations. It’s not a terrible film, but not very entertaining either. It would make for a good rental or matinee viewing.

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