Whenever I go see a movie based on a book, it is usually with a mix of excitement and apprehension, especially when I am a big fan of the book. I initially read Murder on the Orient Express many years ago as a kid when I was discovering my love of mystery novels, along with my love of all things Agatha Christie. This particular novel was one of my favourites (it is a classic for a reason), and one that was very memorable. The trailers for the movie were really well done, and I was more than happy to revisit and reread this classic Poirot mystery before seeing it come to life on the big screen. So, does it live up to the book?
Let’s start with the positives. The movie itself looks beautiful and is visually impressive. From the landscapes to the look of the characters, it is quite stunning and has a very grand feel to it. Kenneth Branagh is simply wonderful as the famous detective, Hercule Poirot and his performance is the absolute highlight of the movie. Simply wonderful.
Now for the not so positives. As impressive as Branagh’s character of Poirot is, the rest of the cast feels incredibly bland and the mix of characters blend together. In a whodunnit this is a big no no. The cast consists of very fine actors, and I wish the movie had done a better job of establishing each one in a way that made it more compelling in terms of figuring out who committed the crime. Even as someone who has read the book I found myself confused a number of times with what was happening and just who some of these actors were supposed to be.
This takes me to two of the main issues I had with the movie. For one, the difference from the characters in the novel to the way some of them were portrayed on the screen was just too stark. I wouldn’t mind this as much if it had benefited the movie, however it actually worked to its detriment by stripping away what made these characters stand out. Most notable is the character of Caroline Hubbard as portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, which is where so much comedic opportunity was lost. My other main issue with the movie is that it does not lay out the clues or set up the mystery in a compelling way to the viewer. We are basically just watching Poirot being Poirot, and while as a character he is absolutely fantastic, the intriguing aspect of the mystery is missing. The main star and most compelling part of any Agatha Christie novel is always the mystery.
Overall I left the theatre feeling disappointed, simply because this movie had so much potential. In the end it takes too many liberties with the adjustments it makes, which not only works to its detriment as a movie alone, but also takes away from the intricacy of the novel and what made Murder on the Orient Express such a classic. Having said that, I can’t help but love this version and interpretation of Hercule Poirot and I hope Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as the famous detective in future adaptations.