Murder on the Orient Express

All aboard...

By Louis Balzani


  • You’re an ardent, die-hard fan of Agatha Christie’s timeless mystery.
  • Nothing else in theaters interests you. 

Some stories seem destined to live forever; one such tale is Agatha Christie’s fabled Murder on the Orient Express. You probably know how it goes by now: in the middle of a long journey, a train full of affluent strangers becomes stranded, and a dangerous passenger dies on board. With nowhere to go and no time to lose, renowned detective Hercule Poirot takes it upon himself to find the murderer as only he can. This story has been adapted several times and read countless more in its original form, so any new cinematic take on it should bring some new or fresh angle to the proceedings; sadly, this version fails to deliver.

Let’s get right into it. One of the dangers of ensemble films is that they must divide the story between many characters. With this version of the story clocking in at under two hours, there just isn’t enough time to give the people aboard the Orient Express anything more than perfunctory backstories. The ensemble amassed here is impressive to say the least, and each performer works hard to make the most of their limited screen time, but even the likes of Willem Dafoe and the impossibly-talented Judi Dench can’t make much of an impact. We simply know too little about too many of these people, and you’ll be hard-pressed to even remember their names after the credits roll.The characters aren’t the only forgettable piece of this story; the narrative beats themselves don’t strike much of a chord, either. Despite how lovingly it massages every detail of the crime scene, the film often fails to inject much intrigue into the mystery. Though creatively and attractively shot by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, the visual presentation cannot make up for the rote and frankly uninteresting investigation. Director and star Kenneth Branagh highlights Poirot’s quirks and spirited determination early on, but the nitty-gritty details of the crime rarely amount to anything exciting. Poirot marches through his investigation dutifully, and there’s never any real sense that things won’t work out for him.

That said, though much of the film feels methodical and flat, the climax and ending stand in stark contrast: sudden, dramatic, and richly emotional. This is, in large part, thanks to Patrick Doyle’s captivating musical score, which considerably heightens the impact of these weighty moments. The last twenty minutes or so are surprisingly moving, and expert pacing in these moments ensures that audiences feel their impact.

Unfortunately, though a great ending can elevate a mediocre film, it often cannot outright save it, and that’s the case with this version of Murder on the Orient Express. Those already familiar with the story won’t find much new here, and murder-mystery junkies may take issue with how it handles the classic tale. Despite this, the film does wisely linger on one of the story’s most timeless lessons: no matter who we are or how accomplished we’ve become, we’re all prone to mistakes of the heart, and even heinous acts can be forgiven under the right circumstances.

…to be fair, though, you don’t need this movie to tell you that.