Murder on the Orient Express

(3.5 / 5)

Agatha Christie may not be as familiar to modern audiences, but her influence continues to impact literature and theatre in this era. In a world where authors like Stephen King continue to dominate book sales and theatre receipts, it is easy to forget that Christie has outsold the living and prolific horror writer. In her career, she wrote 66 detective novels that went on to sell over a billion books around the world. She is the writer who introduced readers to Miss Marple and Tommy & Tuppence and in amongst her character-rich canon of writings, the figure that continues to fascinate and intrigue audiences is the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

This instalment of Murder on the Orient Express is made for a new generation so they may have their own version of the famed murder mystery. Branagh takes the helm as director and lead role of the story that is considered Christie’s best work. It takes place in the 1930’s as Poirot looks to have a quiet and restful railway passage from Istanbul to Paris. While on the trip, he meets his fellow travellers and is approached by art dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) who fears for his own personal safety and asks Hercule to be his temporary bodyguard. The Belgian detective refuses the offer and returns to enjoying reading Dickens and savouring his leisurely ride through the European countryside. During the night, two things occur,  the art dealer is killed and the train is forced to stop due to an avalanche covering the tracks. The situation forces the renowned detective to investigate the murder and attempt to discover who amongst the diverse passenger list had the motive and ability to carry out this crime.

Fans of the novelist and her literary creation may ask if there is a need for another translation of her well-known story. Thankfully it proves to be worth it, because it is in the hands of a director who does all he can to honour this classic tale. Kenneth Branagh has managed to add his masterful touch to this engaging tale that includes a multitude of talent, a beautiful depiction of the landscape and shows that it a labour of love to portray Poirot. His lavish moustache makes the idea of going to the theatre worthwhile.

The familiarity of the storyline, characters and famed twist may deter some from venturing along to see it, but this would be unfortunate. Branagh has managed to breathe enough new life into the vast array of personalities and complements Christie’s beautiful turn of phrase with breathtaking camera work and cinematography. Not limiting the film to the confines of the train carriages, he manages to take advantage of all that is happening inside and outside of the locomotive. Even exposing certain characters to the harsh exterior climate during significant scenes, which provides an added dimension to the drama.

Branagh is the charismatic and centrifugal force that keeps all of the travellers working together and moving towards the ultimate conclusion. Daisy Ridley, Jason Gadd, Willem Defoe, Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz all satisfyingly contribute to the progression of the mystery. They all provide the needed aspect of this fine web of deceit, but none as much as Michelle Pfeiffer as Mrs. Hubbard. The award-winning actress continues to show that she is a force within the industry and she proves to be a strong foil to Branagh’s investigative energies.

Murder on the Orient Express is the methodical and elaborate type of film that is rarely made in this era. A film that is brilliantly written, beautifully-crafted and reliant on great visuals to accent the multi-dimensional characters. It contains a throwback element that is put through a contemporary lens that makes it worth venturing out to reengage with or to be introduced to this artistic model of great literature and cinema.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

Hercule Poirot states that he operates in a black and white world that helps him to identify the things that are a bit off or missing within most situations. The challenge to this philosophy comes when he attempts to administer justice at the conclusion of the Christie’s famed character analysis. The situation proves to be more in grey than monochromatic.

How do people determine right and wrong in a world of ‘grey?’ Besides relying on mere intuition and personal conjecture, the search for the answer to this question has to be outside of the human experience. Some may look for answers in science, philosophy and religion, but how can people know where to find the answers to the ethical and moral queries?

Through this journey of enquiry, the Bible is an excellent source to consider. The wisdom found in the words of this book does not give specific answers to every situation that comes along, but it offers the framework to know how to make the right decision, and it even provides solutions to life’s more prominent considerations. In this investigation, the best places to start are in some of the books of wisdom in the Old Testament (Psalms and Proverbs) or the book of Romans in the New Testament.

In the words of Agatha Christie, ‘The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.’ 

Keep seeking the truth.

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.