Murder on the Orient Express is … perfect for what it is: an Agatha Christie novel faithfully reproduced, beautifully shot, with an outstanding cast. And I’ll see the sequel because of most of those things.
I’ve never read any Agatha Christie novels even though I like mysteries. No spoiler, the ending of the film is the ending of the book. I’m glad now that I had NOT read the book because the ending was fascinating. I checked to make sure of the accuracy of this production, but did I need to? It’s Kenneth Branagh. He eats and drinks Shakespeare. He doesn’t change endings and his career seems dedicated to playing with big questions and addressing the dissatisfaction of moral ambiguity.
My irritation is only because I don’t enjoy moral ambiguity in my fiction.
Damn him for making me think. I could have seen Justice League or Coco but I went with Branagh because he’s an ARTIST for crying out loud. The cast is outstanding. That’s why I saw it. The performances were spot on, the period and imagery were dead on and beautiful.
I have opinions about adaptations of movies. Sometimes they’re loosely based on the books (Blade Runner), poorly based on the books (LOTR) and sometimes they’re so faithful they can be stilted (a couple of the Harry Potter movies) and this MIGHT suffer from the second. Because it feels soooo scene by scene. Which might be a draw to Christie fans and, once I stop thinking about the book at all I was able to just enjoy the movie for its periodness.
The reverence to the story was obvious in him keeping the casual racism. Also noticeable by using the gentle humor of pulp novels of the time. The jokes in books from the first half of the 20th century have a subtle, gently snarky, zingerism. The pacing is pre-Star Wars and the dialog was pulp novel. All that’s left is to find out if I like Agatha Christie.
I like mysteries. I like thrillers. I like “exotic” locales. I haven’t read Christie, but I’ve read a lot of other authors. From Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, Daniel “Dad” Lewis (Cecil Day-Lewis wrote under the name Nicholas Blake), Helen Macinnes, Ross Thomas, Robert Parker, and Sue Grafton. So is Hercule Poirot the kind of detective I “like”?
The character does a thing that I don’t like in mysteries. I don’t mind the detectives being smarter than me but, like Encyclopedia Brown, I like having all the information, in the story, that the investigator does. Or, know, going in that I cannot notice something because I’m not actually standing next to the suspect (see Sherlock Holmes). Hercules Poirot has access to information that I was not given. That was annoying. But that’s not Branagh’s fault. Perhaps it’s his fault that he doesn’t fix the author’s mistakes in the retelling. “Show don’t tell” every writing teacher said. And he could have shown us in the movie what the author must have let us not see in the book. I assume if she had let us see it, the movie’s meticulousness would have insisted on showing it as well. But I love Poirot the way that Kenneth Branagh plays him.
So, the movie is beautiful and plays true to the story by Agatha Christie. But I, personally, loathe moral ambiguity. Mostly, THIS movie made me go home and watch Neil Simon’s “Murder by Death” which pre-emptively makes fun of this movie, back in 1976. How did Maggie Smith do it? See, “Murder by Death” also has an amazing cast.
I’m being a bit of a pill about this and I’m sorry because I liked the character and I’d probably enjoy the rest of the books with that character in it. I even liked an adaptation of a Miss Marple mystery on the radio I heard a couple times. And I liked this movie.
The sequel was announced, “Death on the Nile”, and I’ll see it because of Kenneth Branagh but also because maybe, I will, eventually, enjoy subtlety. And it sure was pretty.