A group of strangers board the luxurious Orient Express for what appears to be an uneventful train ride to Istanbul. Then, a storm creates an avalanche that traps all these passengers in the mountains. In the middle of the night one of these passengers is murdered. With the train stuck in the snow and a killer on the loose, no one on board the train is safe.
This is just the sort of mystery for Hercule Poirot, novelist Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, played this time by Kenneth Branagh. The brilliant but eccentric detective must solve the case by the time the train is freed from the snow and arrives at the station, or an innocent may be accused of the crime while the real killer escapes.
“Murder on the Orient Express” (out in theaters now) is an adaptation of Christie’s novel of the same name and has been filmed several times before. I have not seen any of the previous versions, so I can’t comment on what new elements this film may have brought to the story. However, I was excited to see a period mystery with an all-star cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and many more.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is what I would call a good “rainy afternoon movie.” If you are stuck inside the house on a lazy weekend afternoon, this would be the perfect movie to enjoy while curled up on the couch with a cup of tea or hot cocoa. It’s not a particularly ground-breaking or inventive film, and it won’t end up on my best of the year list. However, it’s a fun, old-fashioned whodunit that’s worth watching for the great cast.
Branagh’s Poirot is lovably eccentric, preferring to have things “just so.” He is often better at questioning suspects than making small talk, and he doesn’t apologize for his odd habits. However, he cares very deeply about finding justice for the innocent. He isn’t just concerned with the facts behind a case — he cares about the people as well.
There’s so many famous faces in “Murder on the Orient Express” that inevitably no one gets a huge amount of screen time, and I almost wish this could have been a TV mini-series so each character had more time to shine and the plot could have delved further into their motivations and backgrounds. For me, the standouts were Daisy Ridley as governess Mary Debenham and Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, an assistant to a particularly nasty businessman. I’d only seen Daisy Ridley in “The Force Awakens” but I think she has a bright career ahead of her. (After seeing this I also think she’s more than capable of handling a “dark side Rey” twist, but that’s a different topic for a different time.) Although I previously knew Josh Gad more for his comedic acting and voicework, I enjoyed seeing him in a serious role that showed off his acting range.
A mystery is only as good as the final reveal where the case is solved, so definitely don’t let anyone spoil the ending for you. Keep track of all the little inconsistencies and coincidences as you’re watching the film; they’ll all make sense in the end. Does the final “unmasking” of the killer stretch credibility just a tad? Perhaps. However, I thought the ending was an interesting commentary on justice and how right and wrong aren’t always as black and white as they first appear. I think Poirot made the best possible decision regarding the complicated situation as he wrapped up the case.