November 15, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express: Complex Drama Does Justice to Agatha Christie’s Classic Whodunit

By Kam Williams 

First published in 1936, Murder on the Orient Express is the most famous case solved by the famous detective Hercule Poirot. Created by Agatha Christie, the Belgian sleuth appeared in 33 of her novels, a play, and over 50 short stories.

This complex murder mystery was first made into a movie by Sidney Lumet in a faithful adaptation that co-starred Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir John Gielgud, Albert Finney, and Jacqueline Bisset. Bergman won her third Oscar for her sterling performance as Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish nurse.

This version of Murder on the Orient Express was directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh who assembled a top-flight cast. The cast includes Academy Award winners Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz, and Award nominees Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, and Johnny Depp.

In addition to directing the film, Branagh also stars as Poirot and sports the detective’s trademark mustache. The visually captivating movie is perhaps more memorable for its breathtaking panoramas than the deliberately paced mystery that takes some time to be unraveled.

The picture opens in Jerusalem, where Poirot is visiting the Wailing Wall and then boards a boat to Istanbul. Once there, his vacation is cut short by a telegram that informs him that he must return to London immediately.

With the help of a fellow Belgian, who happens to be a train company executive (Tom Bateman), he secures a berth aboard the lavish Orient Express for what is usually an unremarkable three-day trip. However, the train is stranded in a snowstorm overnight and the next morning an American art dealer (Johnny Depp), who expressed a fear of being killed, is found dead.

As Poirot investigates the murder, we gradually see that each of the 13 passengers on the train had a motive to kill the unsavory character. Although everybody is a suspect, who is the murderer? The legendary Hercule Poirot solves the classic Agatha Christie mystery by using his extraordinary powers of deductive reasoning.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated PG-13 for violence, ethnic slurs, and mature themes. In English and French with subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Production Studio: Kinberg Genre/The Mark Gordon Company. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.