Do not let this Hercule Poirot’s elaborate mustache fool you. “Murder on the Orient Express” is an inferior and unnecessary remake of the celebrated 1974 film of the same name, which was in turn based on Agatha Christie’s novel. Not too much sleuthing is required to see why.
The timeless premise of the film is (thankfully) unchanged. 13 apparent strangers board the luxurious Orient Express train. One of them is murdered in his locked cabin, and the train is held by a snowdrift that has blocked the tracks. Who is the culprit? Hercule Poirot, famed master detective, is there to find out.
But from there, the film goes a bit off the tracks. A surprise, given that it had the ingredients necessary for success: Its source material. Director and star Kenneth Branagh, known for imbuing life into Thor (2011, director) and Hamlet (1996, director/actor.) An A-list cast––Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Pénelope Cruz, and Johnny Depp, among others.
Branagh fails to showcase his cast’s acting capabilities or develop their characters. The viewer ends up confusing the British governess for the missionary or the Italian chauffeur with the German professor because none are fleshed out enough or have sufficient screentime. Each persona is not fully developed, with the only truly compelling character being Branagh himself as Poirot.
But Branagh’s Poirot has his faults, too. He is exaggerated for thematic purposes––unlike Albert Finney’s version in the original film, who was an eccentric, tic-filled little man, he is now physically capable of a chase under train tracks on snowy mountains. He also has a secret lover whose purpose is never explained. These unnecessary added details stick out “like a nose on a human’s face,” as Poirot would say, and not in a good way. They feel tacked on at the last moment to add some (questionably) adrenaline-pumping action.
The visuals and music in the movie are admittedly beautiful. Even so, the angle of some camera shots are questionable in their purpose; the bird’s eye view shots in the scene when Poirot discovers the victim’s body negatively pulls the audience away from the action. The soundtrack, however, is perfectly haunting and suspenseful, adding to the movie but not distracting from the plot.
Yet overall, it is a pity that so much talent went to waste. For those who have not seen the original film directed by Sidney Lumet, watch it instead and save the $10 a theater ticket costs. For those who have seen or read the source material, ponder the real mystery––who on Earth could enjoy this mess of an adaptation.
Featured photo courtesy of IMDb. Additional reporting was contributed by Stella Ho.