While Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining experience, it misses the deft precision of Agatha Christie’s original novel.
World-renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), must postpone his much-anticipated vacation to tie up loose ends from another case. However, on his way to England on the Orient Express, one of his fellow passengers is murdered, and Poirot’s skills are enlisted to solve the case.
In adapting a novel, one must decide how closely to stick to the book and how much creative license to take. Murder on the Orient Express takes a fair amount of creative license, by fleshing out the story and changing the tone, but still keeps the central plot intact.
However, these added details work against the strengths of the novel. In spending so much time creating these new elements, it is clear that the mystery is no longer the priority. Without enough attention, the central murder mystery becomes chaotic and murky.
Both starring and directed by Branagh, it’s not really surprising that Murder on the Orient Express spends the most time expanding Poirot’s role. In the first quarter of the movie, a new mystery is created just to demonstrate Poirot’s superior detective abilities.
Although the sequence is filled with the film’s special brand of weak and awkwardly-placed humor is not terrible, as it is fun and exciting. However, it is completely unnecessary. It is a complete waste of time which is inappropriately inserted into this carefully constructed narrative. The film establishes over and over that Poirot is the greatest detective, and it does not need to waste an absurd amount of time to do it again.
The film continues to spend an appalling amount of time to give every single member of this star-studded cast a glamorous introduction. Very few of these introductions actually reveal anything about the character, which just wastes time when they all have to be reintroduced with more character information.
The construction of Poirot in the film feels a little off. While he is a humorous character in the novel, it is at a subtle level. His humor is far exaggerated in the film and feels completely out of place. He is given some obsession with the size of eggs, as well as a few other peculiarities. These are given weak explanation and seem more like it is just giving Branagh more to do. Additionally, he soliloquizes multiple times to a picture of a loved one, which serves no purpose in the story. Also, the mustache is just absurd enough that it becomes distracting.
In the novel, the characters are confined to the train. This adds a claustrophobic quality, which builds both tension and suspense. In the film, characters leave the train multiple times. This was likely done to avoid visual monotony, but only eradicates all slivers of suspense. The film substitutes suspense with drama, in the form of chases and physical violence, which is trite and unnecessary.
While the movie uses the exact same clues as in the novel, the movie is not careful with them. Some clues are mentioned at the beginning, but not explained at the end as to how they are relevant to the crime. Other clues are never mentioned in the beginning, but are revealed to have a huge significance in the crime.
The clues are meticulously tracked in the book so that if you were to go back and read it, you can see exactly how every single clue is played out. In the movie, this would not be possible to do, as some of the clues are lost in the shuffle.
The movie slightly changes the motive for the crime. This suggests that there may have been a lack of understanding of the book. While this change would be impossible to notice without reading the book, but most of the other changes do feel out of place.
Despite these flaws, Murder on the Orient Express is a fun movie, albeit fun in a strange way for a mystery. Visually, the movie is outstanding. Due to the film taking place on a train, there are some unconventional shots that are incredibly intriguing. However, despite looking beautiful, some switches between shots are uncomfortably jarring and the CGI does not always look completely real.
Finally, with a cast of this caliber, it is no surprise that the performances are incredible. Their performances, paired with the visuals, allow the movie to still be entertaining, despite its missteps in adapting the novel.