The television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot ran from 1989 to 2013 and contained 70 episodes. If you were to take any one of those episodes, give it a much higher production budget and fill it with A-list actors, you’d have Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express 2017 full movie.
Instead of trying to upend Agatha Christie’s book or the mystery genre in general, Branagh plays by the rules, wrapping the story in a beautifully crafted production that has a surprising blend of humor and fun in spite of the weight of finding a murderer. It’s only at the end when Branagh’s precise direction can’t handle piecing together the crime and the themes become disappointing in spite of an attempt to give Poirot a character arc.
Famous detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) has hitched a ride on the luxurious Orient Express thanks to his devious friend Bouc (Tom Bateman). During the trip, one of the passengers is killed and the train turns into snowbound. As workers try to dig out the engine, Poirot reluctantly decides to solve the mystery. He interviews the passengers who would have had access to the scene of the crime and discovers that there’s far more happening than a simple murder.
Murder on the Orient Express movie was first published in 1934, but it has been around for so long that the solution to the murder case has receded from the public consciousness, so I won’t spoil that here or even go into further detail than the trailers, which won’t even reveal the passenger who dies. However, even if you’ve read the novel, you’ll find Branagh’s take to be a highly enjoyable ride that takes advantage of the director’s penchant for rich, warm, classical direction that covers you up like a warm blanket.
Branagh hasn’t made a movie to challenge his audience as much as he’s made it to comfort them. Although it’s a murder mystery yarn, everything in the production is functioning at a scale of highest craftsmanship. The cast, especially Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe, who portrays passengers/suspects, are out of this world, Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography rises to the challenge of a film mostly shot in one location to avoid ever feeling stagey, Patrick Doyle nails a great score, and the entire production has the same kind of astounding, rich look of Branagh’s past work Cinderella and Hamlet.
Where Murder on the Orient Express full movie falls apart is at the climax of the film. In spite of the exquisite staging and even the melodrama that somehow works (Poirot says with a straight face, “You will have to answer to two people: Your god, and Hercule Poirot.”), there are some elements where a novel is able to get away with things that a film can’t. What the reader will allow becomes far more challenging to visualize on screen, and in his major revelation, Poirot reveals facts that the audience would have had no way of figuring out, thus making it impossible to have our suspicions confirmed or denied.
The ending becomes even more difficult based on Poirot’s reaction to the crime. Again, not to give anything away, but it creates a moral conundrum the movie isn’t fit to solve. Rather than grappling with the weight of the crime, the movie simply shrugs it off, has Poirot slightly adjust his moral code, and move on to the next case. It’s a disappointing, sloppy end for a movie that had mostly felt meticulously made.
But before you reach that ending, it’s still an enjoyable feature, and even the conclusion isn’t enough to derail the old-fashioned storytelling that the film provides. If Murder on the Orient Express 2017 full movie was the beginning of a new Poirot saga starring Kenneth Branagh and every new entry was beautifully produced and incredibly cast, I’d happily turn up to see that series. I just hope they come to better conclusions.