Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

By Maha Dania Qazi
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RATING:  

Poirot: “I have always been so sure. There was right and there was wrong. Now there is you. I cannot judge this.”

“Murder on the Orient Express” is much more than a story about a colorful assortment of people, each with a hidden past, journeying on a train together.  The train journey itself is a metaphor for the attainment of justice, by any means possible. This was Dame Agatha Christie’s favorite story and, arguably, her masterpiece. The story shows Hercule Poirot making different observations that finally lead him to the truth. While there is “right and there is wrong, and there is no in-between” in Poirot’s mind at the beginning, however, through this very special journey, he comes to reassess life differently, where the “scales of justice cannot be measured equally.” It is a multi-layered story with great performances, done on an opulent scale befitting old Hollywood but with a new twist.

Old World yet Contemporary

We are introduced to the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Sir Kenneth Branagh) who, from the onset, displays obsessive-compulsive behaviour. With beautiful Jerusalem in the backdrop, the movie is a visual delight. Those who have read the novel by Agatha Christie will appreciate the fresh new twists in this version, providing an element of surprise. This particular adaptation has a contemporary feel (with an inter-racial couple and marvellous CGI shots of the train moving through the snowy background).

Poirot’s Signature Mustache

While Orient Express is alive with the much familiar and quirky Poirot tendencies, for example; his measured approach to all things, such as the size of his morning boiled eggs, to walking in a way that does not disturb the “balance” around him, in contrast to these defining traits, Branagh sports an outlandishly long and bristly walrus-like moustache that seems so out-of-sync with Poirot’s personality. In spite of this, as the film progresses, the hirsute moustache is not as distracting as one imagined it would be. This is coming from a die-hard Agatha Christie fan whose concept of Poirot is synonymous with David Suchet (from the egg-shaped head, Belgian accent, physical shape and form to the T).

More than a Mystery

Murder on the Orient Express is essentially a mystery with a detective at the helm, but it has crime and passion at the core of it. There are layers within layers, that Poirot reveals gradually with great elegance. Visually, the film is very appealing, complete with period costumes, nuanced performances by veteran actors Dame Judi Dench and some relatively new ones (Daisy Ridley), and fabulous sets, in and outside the train.  The music score by Patrick Doyle is particularly brilliant. There is a scene shot in sepia where the murder is dramatized onscreen, and the music accompanying those moments is so moving that one can literally feel the tears rolling down.

Outstanding Performances

Sir Kenneth Branagh and the entire cast of actors and actresses starring in Murder on the Orient Express play their roles beautifully, in particular, the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer. At first, one imagines she’s the stereotypical beautiful blonde: Mrs. Hubbard, but there’s a lot more lurking underneath that façade. I think she has the most screen time too, and that’s saying a lot when one is sharing screen time with Dame Judi Dench.

All the characters are introduced to us one by one. Some of the nationalities of the characters have changed from the past. Earlier, Ingrid Bergman played a Scandinavian missionary whereas now, a new character is introduced; Pilar Estravados played by Penelope Cruz. The actors are sublime in their roles, especially the suave and dignified Beddoes (Sir Derik Jacobi), who’s Ratchett’s (Johnny Depp) butler. Mcqueen (Josh Gad), the accountant to the murdered Ratchett, comes across as the most human and engaging. His character manages to make a connection with the audience, irrespective of his past mistakes, given his circumstances.

The Missing Elements

This version was not as opulent as the Sidney Lumet version (1974). No single performance really stood out, but they were all shining stars. I think if David Suchet had played Poirot in 2017 it would have been perfection since he is the quintessential Poirot. But Branagh did the role justice. It is definitely worth a watch!

Most Memorable Dialogue

Murder on the Orient Express treated us to some brilliant conversation exchanges between the different characters on the train. One appreciated the refreshing twists, a change from the original (no spoilers), so as to breathe life into Christie’s story, yet again. One should be open to new interpretations while keeping the essence of the original, which this version does quite aptly. Christie would be pleased to see one of her masterpieces given a new adaptation while remaining loyal to the original story. I’d give the film a 4/5 STARS easily for effort and audacity.

The lines that stayed with me much after the closing credits were:

Pilar Estravados: Vice is where the devil finds his darlings.
Monsieur Bouc: Then we should never speak.

Poirot: You tell your lies and think no one will know. But there are two people who know. One is God. And the other is Hercule Poirot.

Poirot: “I have always been so sure. There was right and there was wrong. Now there is you. I cannot judge this.”

 

 

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About Maha Dania Qazi

Maha holds a Masters Degree in International Security from Georgetown University USA as well as a Teaching Certificate in Elementary Education from New Jersey. She is currently working in the field of education. She dreams of opening a school of her own one day. Maha loves to write, read, travel, and do sports and yoga. She believes in becoming the best version of herself. She has travelled widely, and has engaged in voluntary and non-voluntary work on multiple occasions: Developments in Literacy in Washington D.C and SOS, Islamabad Pakistan, to name a few. Maha loves watching a good Bollywood film occasionally and lives by the motto: Count each day as a blessing and practice more gratitude.