The Murder on the Orient Express (Movie)

MOTOEAfter a week of trying to make schedules align I was finally able to go and see the new Murder on the Orient Express movie. I had initially planned on writing this up as a more structured book and movie contrast or to compare different versions but there are plenty of good posts out there already doing that. Like this one from Brad which not only compares each of the filmed versions but also talks about the significance of the book to him.

Instead I am just sharing some thoughts about the movie. I’m not trying to cover or mention everything – just the things that struck me most during the film or which I ended up talking about with my wife as we left. And for those who are considering seeing this and don’t know the ending I am keeping this spoiler-free.

OrientExpressKenneth Branagh’s Moustache Isn’t Distracting

The most surprising thing about the film was how little I noticed the moustache once the film began. I have slightly mixed feelings about the content of the first ten minutes which is a little like a Bond-style pre-credits adventure. It’s there to establish Poirot as the greatest detective in the world and set up the principle themes of the movie. While I felt the film tried too hard to be funny and it was a little too frantic, it does allow the viewer time to adjust to this new Poirot before he sets foot on the train. By the time we see Poirot sniffing breads in Istanbul I wasn’t concentrating on the moustache or his more streamlined physique – I was becoming immersed in the story.

 

Bouc Actually Makes An Impression

When I read the novel I remember the character of Bouc feeling like a significant figure because of his established friendship with Poirot yet I often feel that the character becomes forgotten. Tom Bateman does a great job here though, portraying Bouc as an irresponsible bon vivant. More importantly, through his character we witness the emotional toll the case takes on those involved as we see how grave and serious he has become by its conclusion.

Branagh Has A Great Eye… But Overthinks Some Shots

Why did we need a new version of Murder on the Orient Express? I certainly was wondering this but sequences such as the train pulling through the city of Istanbul or the avalanche give the film a sense of scale that differentiates it from previous filmed versions. The train looks truly fantastic and so glamorous that you almost wouldn’t mind being trapped in it with a killer on the loose if you could enjoy the seemingly endless supply of Godiva chocolates that are on hand.

While much of the film is very well directed, I do think Branagh goes a little overboard at moments trying to inject some visual flair into the movie. At several times he indulges in long tracking shots, an overhead shot of a conversation in a corridor and films scenes through textured glass and it’s a little distracting. And then there’s the scene near the end where the cast are positioned like they are in a very famous painting…

GadJosh Gad Stands Out In An All-Star Cast

Like the previous movie version that starred Albert Finney, Branagh has assembled an all-star cast. In a film that features Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Olivia Coleman, the standout performance came from Josh Gad who surprised us by playing the part absolutely straight. He is much more than Olaf and LeFou!

Johnny Depp Is A Good Ratchett

Last year my wife and I went to a film where Johnny Depp made a ‘surprise’ appearance in the final few scenes of the movie. When he appeared the full audience audibly groaned, disappointed in the reveal and with a hint of Depp-fatigue.

There was a little of that yesterday but for my money (an outrageous $15 for a matinee!), Depp fit the part very well and makes a strong impression in relatively little screen time.

The Ending Isn’t Exactly Bungled But…

When the early reviews came out, several suggested that the solution was impossible to follow if you don’t already know the story. I asked Brad his opinion before seeing it and I essentially agree with him that there are a few clues left on the table but that the solution is there.

I will say though that the film does rush through the conclusion. My wife, who has seen previous film versions but not in a long time, did not struggle to understand what the solution to the murder had been but did wonder what Poirot decided to do about what he learned in the end. She had guessed correctly but we don’t get to hear the conversation take place.

We Would Be Excited To See Another

At the end of the film there is a little moment which is meant as a little nod to the fans and possibly sets up a sequel. If that happens, and it looks likely now that it will, I would be excited to see it.

Suggested Reads: Murder on the Orient Express

I am unlikely to have time to go and see Murder on the Orient Express this weekend due to a busy work and childcare schedule but I couldn’t resist posting something that might tie in with its release. An added bonus would be that this will be my first post about Dame Agatha – it’s fairly amazing that I managed to go fifteen posts without so much as mentioning her name!

I initially toyed with doing a top five listing of my favorite Christie stories but it has been such a long time since I read many of them that I am not sure my memory would be entirely reliable. Another option was to write something about Christie’s legacy but that wouldn’t be particularly personal.

Instead I decided to do some suggestions of other Christie stories that I would recommend to those who loved this movie and want to investigate some of her other works. Below are a number of reasons you may have liked the movie with a suggestion or two to match. I am confident that if you do try them you will find a great read!

You Liked MOTOE Because… Of The Exotic Setting

DeathontheNileChristie’s work doesn’t always feature settings as magnificent or appealing to the imagination as the Orient Express but when Poirot or Marple do travel they often do so in style.

Death On the Nile is a great example of this. Here Poirot is approached by a beautiful woman while traveling in Cairo who has recently married but now finds that she is being stalked by her husband’s lover. While Poirot initially declines to assist believing there to be no crime, events take a murderous turn.

While much of the novel is spent aboard a steam ship on the great river itself, we get a sense both of the country and of the experience of travelling before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Also consider Murder in Mesopotamia, another Poirot story which is set against the backdrop of an archaeological dig.

You Liked MOTOE Because… Of Its Ingenious Solution

ABC MurdersChristie’s plotting is one of her greatest strengths and she pulled off some wonderful surprises throughout her career. Some are famous such as the solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd but I’d rather focus on two stories that don’t get quite the same press but which I think are quite brilliant.

The ABC Murders is, to my mind, Christie’s best book that people just don’t know about. Perhaps that reflects its title or the lack of a major modern movie adaptation. In short, Poirot is challenged by a serial killer to anticipate his moves and stop him before he kills again. The serial killer is working alphabetically and leaves an ABC Railway guide near the body as a calling card. The solution is wonderfully simple and just as cunning and memorable as that of MOTOE.

A Murder Is Announced is a Miss Marple novel which has a wonderful hook: someone has placed an advert letting people know when and where a murder will take place. Inevitably the whole village seems to gather at the indicated date and time expecting a game and are shocked when a murder really is committed. Once again, the genius of this story lies in its cunning simplicity.

You Liked MOTOE Because… Trains

DeathintheCloudsWell, once again Dame Agatha provides and if trains are your thing, consider The Mystery of the Blue Train or The 4:50 From Paddington.

I’d prefer to switch gears though and suggest Death in the Clouds. Sure, the murder takes place in the skies instead of on tracks but some of the elements of this story are quite memorable and the solution to how a murder is conducted mid-flight is really quite clever.

If you are planning to watch rather than read my suggestions, I seem to remember that the David Suchet adaptation is not one of the better ones though so you may want to chase it down with a viewing of the quite wonderful (and not particularly faithful) adaptation of The 4:50 From Paddington, Murder She Said!

You Liked MOTOE Because… Of Its Star-Studded Cast

NoneWell, books aren’t really star-studded so let’s shift formats and switch to films. The good news is that there were a heap of film adaptations made in the seventies and eighties featuring some really big name stars. The Albert Finney Murder On The Orient Express is a great example – it features Sean Connery and the wonderful Ingrid Bergman among its cast.

Though I think some parts of the adaptation stretch a little too far from Christie’s original (especially the bacchanal sequence), the recent 2015 adaptation of And Then There Were None is quite chilling and features a superb cast that includes Charles Dance, Sam Neill, Aidan Turner and Toby Stephens. It also comes closer than most adaptations to using the actual ending of the novel.

So, there are some of my suggestions for some literary (and movie) chasers to wash down your viewing of Murder on the Orient Express with. Hopefully you loved the movie and I hope it won’t be too long before I get to go see it myself. If you have any comments or suggestions of your own, please do share – I’d love to read them.