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Review by Miriam Atkinson
Featuring a stunning, all-star cast, Murder on the Orient Express is the latest film adaption to be made of Agatha Christie’s arguably most famous crime novel.
Set in 1937, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is armed with only his razor sharp wits and questionable facial hair when – on a three-day train journey from Istanbul – a passenger is murdered. After an avalanche causes the train to derail, (a more dramatic interpretation of the novel’s ‘train gets stuck in snowdrift’), Poirot decides that he is the only man who can determine which of the stranded passengers is the culprit.
After seeing the film, I am still completely on the fence about whether this is a good film or not. Certainly it is not a bad film. Orient Express uses its train setting to its advantage, displaying the claustrophobic atmosphere of the passengers as they live uneasily on top of each other. This is contrasted with the vast snowy mountain landscape that displays the isolation and loneliness of the characters in this hostile environment. Additionally, the film is worth watching simply because of its impressive ensemble cast. Everyone is given their moment to shine and Daisy Ridley is particularly engaging as the refined, yet strong-willed, Governess. Unfortunately, however, the majority of characters come across as 2-dimensional. Perhaps due to the volume of characters, only a handful of them are given enough screen time to develop into truly fleshed out characters, who the audience can engage with.
The most irritating problem with the film is not Poirot himself, but rather, how the film chooses to show his detective genius. To give an example, a burnt piece of paper is found next to the murdered passenger. With the few letters visible, Poirot is immediately able to work out what the original paragraph of the text said and declares the passenger had a secret identity – despite the paper not referring to the passenger. This in turn leads to a waterfall of further correct assumptions that conveniently help the plot to progress. There is never any evidence or explanation offered as to how Poirot deciphers the clues, other than empty statements such as ‘I’m the great detective Hercule Poirot’. The climax of the film is similarly frustrating. The problem may have come from copying the original Christie novels, several of which suffer from the same leaps and unexplained deductions. In places, the story might have worked better if it added to, and enhanced, the original work, thus filling the glaring gaps of reason.
While Branagh puts his mark on the character of Poirot, I feel that he was unable to compete with David Suchet’s classic portrayal of the character. The problem with choosing such a well-known story is that it has already been adapted several times before. This makes it more difficult to do something new and stand out from the crowd and the film certainly suffers from this. The conclusion of Orient Express obviously sets up a potential sequel – Death on the Nile – of which there have been far fewer adaptations than Orient Express. I am therefore hopeful and curious to see how this new series will progress in the future.