7. A film based on a book: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
List Progress: 4/12 (+1)
While I have not read the Agatha Christie 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express, I have read some of her other works, and tried my first book with the detective Hercule Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, this past year and really enjoyed it. The 2017 film adaptation of Orient Express, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, did not come highly recommended to me, but I was intrigued to try it out. I am not someone who desperately tries to solve mystery stories before the ending, but I like being taken along for the ride. However, this film is far more interested in throwing together character quirks than in telling a solid mystery.
An American businessman is murdered on a long-distance train ride through the Alps, and when an avalanche leaves the train stranded, everyone becomes a suspect in this closed-room mystery. Branagh plays Poirot, a quirky Belgian detective who must investigate all of the colorful characters on board the train and get to the bottom of the mystery before the train is dug out and everyone will disembark and be free to disappear. It’s a fun set-up, but the short length of a film compared to a novel means that it feels like suspects are still being introduced to the audience one or two scenes before the climax; giving someone a quick introduction in a montage at the beginning does not count as establishing another full legitimate suspect. When the movie apparently has time for Poirot to wax poetic over a photo of some long-lost love, it probably should have gotten all the pieces established on the board a lot sooner.
Some directorial choices also feel self-consciously artistic, like the murder scene being exclusively filmed in an overhead shot while Poirot lists off what pieces of evidence he is finding, rather than giving the audience close-ups to let them see through Poirot’s eyes. It’s a bold and interesting choice, but not necessarily a good one.
There’s nothing terrible about this film, I didn’t feel offended or betrayed watching it, but it just felt lacking. Some organization, some atmosphere, some life, they’re all a bit missing and the movie sags because of it. Making a compelling mystery movie means you need a masterful control of tension, and Branagh just isn’t able to land that tone.
Would I Recommend It: Eh, not really, but check it out if you want. Though if you’re looking for a truly great Christie adaptation, the 2015 mini-series of And Then There Were None is wonderful.