After watching Murder on the Orient Express, it’s not hard to see why murder mysteries just aren’t a thing anymore. I was cautiously optimistic to see this one, the trailer promising an old classic rejuvenated with a sleek, shiny coat of modernity.
Well, as stylish and star-packed as it is, Murder On The Orient Express seems creaky and outdated from the get-go. For some reason, we don’t start the story on the train. Instead, we get like, forty minutes of introduction to quirky Poirot and his eccentric ways, along with some unnecessary exposition. It’s really slow and frustrating, because it’s not like we weren’t going to understand the setup here.
I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel, nor seen an adaption, so I was coming into this one completely fresh, but I have seen her tropes endlessly parodied in pop culture. We get the point, all these connected folks are boarding on same a train with an obsessive-compulsive detective. Please, just start the story. It’s cool, honestly. We’ve seen Sherlock, and House, we understand that this guy is really smart, and doesn’t care about social conventions. Is the train coming yet?
When we finally board the promised train, things do pick up. The new layout suggests ample opportunity for interesting scenes, while the interior is fancy, beautiful, and full of celebrities, almost too many to mention.
Johnny Depp and Michelle Phiefer are particularly enjoyable, which is really cool because I haven’t seen Pfeifer onscreen since Scarface, and she seems to have grown even more attractive, somehow. It’s also refreshing to find Depp not in the form of Jack Sparrow, and while his character is unmasked to be a truly horrible person, his charm makes up for it.
Detective Poirot, played by director Kenneth Branagh, is surprisingly dull. This is a real pity, since these “neurotic genius” characters can be interesting, if played by the right actor, and Branagh is just not bizarre enough. Plus, his hipster mustache completely covers his mouth, which is unintentionally unsettling. Facial hair aside, Poirot just feels like an ordinary guy with an unusual mustache, who tells others to straighten their ties a lot. But in a train full of empty stereotypes, Poirot should have been the most interesting character.
But nevermind. Once the train is boarded, the action picks up. This sort of story doesn’t actually need to be all that good to be entertaining, to be utterly honest. It’s all about poorly-written plot twists, and as long as they come quick and unexpected, everything else can be forgiven; sort of like a Dan Brown novel.
But toward the end, things get progressively wackier, with just about every character given a shot where they are revealed to be the killer, until they aren’t. During the very final scene where the true murderer is revealed, I actually burst out laughing. I had to Google the ending to check if this was a deviation from the book, but no, that’s the original plot twist.
To be fair, we are watching this story through modern eyes, and I suppose the ending would have been mind-blowing in an age beset with murder mysteries. But the audience has long moved on, and in its worst sequences, Murder On The Orient Express seems like an Agatha Christie satire rather than a serious effort. At best, it feels like a stage play, or really, a pantomime. So, I guess the murder mystery isn’t making a comeback. We’re stuck with police protocols until somebody comes up with something better.
If you haven’t seen Murder on the Orient Express film, and don’t want the ridiculous climax spoiled for you, read no further.
Alright. I understand that during Christie’s time, every single possible combination of murder mystery had been done before, and making this one a team effort must have been the only way left to actually surprise people.
But without that context, the idea of every single passenger on the train banding together to kill Johnny Depp is laughable – literally. It was like enduring the ending of a child’s meandering story, where they just pull something out of thin air to give a semblance of closure to the tale they made up on the spot. It was the flashback scene that really did it for me; actually seeing the passengers patiently queuing to stab Depp in the gut was far more amusing than it should have been – especially Penélope Cruz’s nun character. Also, why was she even there? Why bother hiring all those talented actors and never actually give them anything to do?
Also, I enjoyed how almost every single passenger on the train had a secret identity, and how utterly inconsequential it ended up being. Fake glasses, fake accents, fake hair; none of it stands up to a quick question from Poirot, who seems to suspect every person he meets of identity theft.
It was all so theatrical, I’m surprised there weren’t any musical numbers to break up the scenes of characters being found guilty, and then proved innocent, and then actually being guilty, together.
I think, in hindsight, that perhaps this kind of story could have worked if it was self-aware and funny. Otherwise, we’re inevitably going to laugh when we shouldn’t. And a tale of bloody vengeance against a child-murderer shouldn’t be interrupted by the sound of laughter from the audience.