Since the release of her classic 1934 novel, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted as television shows, computer games, radio shows, and of course, movies. Now, 43 years after its original cinematic debut, comes a remake that doesn’t do much more than simply recycle what every other adaptation has already done.
Decorated with a mustache that nearly embodies a character of its own, Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the the famous detective Hercule Poirot. We are first introduced to Mr. Poirot in Istanbul, where he is in the midst of wrapping up another case. The sole purpose of this lengthy introduction seems to only drive home two main points: he has one heck of an eye for detail, and he’s weirdly picky about the symmetry of his breakfast eggs; only one of which seems relevant to the storyline (I‘ll let you guess which one), and still wastes too much time in the beginning on something that could have been woven into the plot more organically as it progressed.
After much delay, Mr. Poirot finally arrives on the train where the real action begins to play out. Here, we meet 11 new characters, all with very distinct looks, and interesting personalities. Shortly into their trip, the train derails as a result of an avalanche, leaving the passengers stranded. More significantly, they find that one of the passengers, Mr. Ratchett (played by Johnny Depp) had been murdered in his cabin at some point during the night. Naturally, Mr. Poirot appoints himself as head of the case, and begins to interview each one of the passengers in pursuit of the killer, before they strike again.
Aesthetically, the snow-coated mountains that surround the train look crisp and serene — especially against the pastel sunsets that creep just above the roof of the train. The train itself is opulent, but not over-the-top, and creates an interesting environment for the characters to interact in. The narrow corridors of the train also allow for unique filming angles, often being shot from high angles, or through glass, which creates beautiful double-vision reflections within the scenes.
Though each character is distinctly their own, there is little to no character development throughout the film. This works for the most part, in that it helps to create an air of mystery about the characters, so as to not give away the ending. However, there is plenty of room to give Mr. Poirot a richer backstory, and to offer something new that previous adaptations hadn’t done; yet this adaptation doesn’t bother to do so.
The clues and interviews leading up to the final reveal of the murderer are moderately intriguing, but don’t quite feel built up enough to leave the audience gobsmacked when we do find out who the killer is. When Mr. Poirot finally does explain exactly how the murder was committed, it feels rushed. A longer, more detailed explanation could have brought more interesting nuances to a story that is begging to be revived; but again, it didn’t bother.
Though enjoyable, Murder on the Orient Express plays it way too safe. Certainly, after 43 years, this story deserves a fresher and deeper perspective. Whether you’re familiar with the story or not, this remake just feels lazy. Having already been adapted numerous times, this feels like a wasted opportunity, where they should have taken more risks with the plot and its characters. Do yourself a favour, and leave this movie at the station; but, if you’re really itching for a well-done murder-mystery, turn on something like Clue, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or pretty much any Alfred Hitchcock movie.