Movies: Murder on the Orient Express

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Holy S*** How Many People Are In This Movie
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Michael Green (screenplay) from the novel by Agatha Christie
20th Century Fox, 2017
PG-13; 114 minutes
4.25 stars (out of 5)


The obligatory history: I read my first Hercule Poirot book when I was thirteen years old. It was, in fact, Murder on the Orient Express. I remember this distinctly because I was nearly finished with the book when Dad called me down to take me to Lethal Weapon 2 (my first R-rated movie in the cinema). Mom was out of town, and Dad always gave me more credit for being able to tolerate things like violence and language. I'd loved the first Lethal Weapon when I'd seen . . . either the VHS tape or TV edit? So of course I wanted to see the next one.

I digress. Let's say that Murder on the Orient Express drove me to read many more Poirot novels. It was also the first Agatha Christie book I shared with my now 12-year-old son. And so I hold it very close to my heart. And my son and I were very excited to see the movie.

This is a lovely movie. In particular, the skies and the way the train is framed in certain shots—just gorgeous. I also enjoyed the subtle humor at certain moments. Wit, really. So quick and brief I think many in the cinema missed the jokes entirely.

There are flaws, however. MOTOE has a huge cast. This is not unusual for Poirot novels, or a certain genre of mysteries in general. After all, the more people involved, the harder it is for the reader to figure out the solution to the crime. But when condensing things to the screen, the number of characters can be confusing, and no one gets full development. Backstories zip by. For someone who has read the book, this may not be a problem. (It wasn't for me or my son.) But I would think anyone unfamiliar with the story might be a bit confused.

My only other quibble is the insertion of a backstory for Poirot—a lost love named Katherine. WHY???? Was it done to make Poirot more sympathetic somehow? It really added nothing to the story and actually detracted from the established character for me. This need to make Poirot into something he never was in the novel: a brilliant mind grieving for what has been lost or denied him. They also make him fastidious to the point of near OCD. Like, yes, Poirot has very high standards, but this is beyond what I remember from the books. And while it contributes to his character's "eye for details" it is also somewhat played for laughs. If Poirot has a problem—like, actual OCD—that's not funny.

The movie does deviate from the novel on a number of points, but overall it is very enjoyable. One hopes they'll do another. Though—again, just to quibble—to namecheck Death on the Nile as though to set it up as the next film is ridiculous. That murder occurs while Poirot is present, not before. He's in Egypt when Linnet is murdered is what I mean. Poirot wouldn't be getting information about the murder before he's even gone to Egypt. That's just dumb.

Well, whatever. I'd watch it anyway, so I guess my fuss is for naught. Here's hoping it gets a green light.

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