While watching this movie, there were people in the cinema in our row who had literally fallen asleep (and snoring away), while others were playing away Candy Crush. This is where the problem arose.
It’s a movie that demands complete and utter attention from the viewers. There is no Mission Impossible style action or sequences as seen in most murder mystery movies churned out by Hollywood. There is indeed a lot of talking going on, and with the distinct Belgian accent spoken by detective Hercule Poirot, it can be a bit of a struggle for those who find it hard to pick up the accent.
This movie will divide the viewers– either they will like or they will simply come out of it saying meh.
It also depends on whether you’ve read the very popular source novel (published in 1934) by Agatha Christie or not. When the novel had come out, it created a buzz as Christie had brilliantly set up a unique murder mystery on a luxurious train due to it’s twisted ending. The movie, however, doesn’t translate the novel’s brilliance all too well on to the big screen.
Having said that, if attention is paid to the details (and dialogue) it can be a rewarding experience. (More on that later).
Kenneth Brannagh’s version of the movie, in my opinion, does a fine job of the novel. His portrayal of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is bang on, including the accent and the rather large, well-maintained moustache (in one scene, we see how he actually keeps it so well maintained!)
So, what’s the big deal in the movie?
The year is 1934. We are introduced to detective Poirot in Jerusalem, in his usual morning routine, which includes measuring the height of the eggs in the egg cups. He is called in to solve a mystery of a stolen artifact. The premise sets us up to witness the genius, working mind of detective Poirot and the way he solves the mystery so effortlessly.
Moving on, detective Poirot is aboard the train, the luxurious Orient Express, that will take him from Istanbul to London– in what is some of the most gorgeous and stylish visuals seen on the big screen. The wide landscapes, the train chugging out the station in Istanbul and making its way through the mountainous regions are a visual treat.
On board the train are 12 more passengers, some of which are Mr. Ratchett (Johnny Depp), Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz), among others. Overnight, Mr. Ratchett is murdered and the following morning, detective Poirot makes the discovery. Mr. Ratchett has been stabbed 12 times, sometimes deep enough, sometimes shallow enough. At the same time, an avalanche blocks the railroad tracks and slightly derails the train.
So here we are all aboard a train that’s stuck in the snow, a man who’s been murdered with 12 stab wounds. The only clue detective Poirot has at this time is witnessing a woman running away down the train corridor in a red kimono. So the hunt begins as every single person on the train becomes a suspect.
Train stuck. No Escape. 1 murder. 12 suspects. 1 detective. The recipe for a delicious murder mystery has been set.
There is a lot of talking, and questioning, going on as the back-story is revealed of a baby who was killed, and Mr. Ratchett’s true personality is known. I won’t get into what happens next but there is a slight element of fun as we begin to question in our own minds who the potential killer can be. There are loads of red herrings and false clues, that can the viewer off, but to the more seasoned viewer (or those who’ve read the book) will find it predictable.
The ending is one of the highlights for me as detective Poirot contemplates the fate of the murderer as his conscience is bugged. What’s wrong and what’s right? What was the ethical and moral thing to do? Was the murder justified? What will he tell the police? If you had paid attention, detective Poirot in the opening scene talks about the importance of “balance” as he accidentally steps on poop, and in contrast, he talks about “imbalance,” driving home a point that the world cannot be seen in black and white terms, for there are a lot of grey areas!
Murder on the Orient Express was a good one-time watch, if only for the visuals and Kenneth Brannagh’s portrayal of detective Poirot. The studios have green-lit the next movie, Murder on the Nile, which is teasingly pointed towards the end of the movie.
3 out of 5
Director: Kenneth Brannagh
Cast: Kenneth Brannagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Defoe
Synopsis: Aboard the Orient Express, detective Poirot tries to solve the mystery of a man with 12 suspects.
Running time: 114 mins
Seen at: Cinestar, Xinhua Mall, Lahore
Approval Ratings: 59% Rotten Tomatoes