I love murder mysteries. And in recent years, we’ve got some great ones. In 2014, David Fincher treated us to Gone Girl, a psychological thriller that also satirizes marriage and the criminal justice system. In 2015, Quentin Tarantino gave us The Hateful Eight – Samuel L Jackson delivers a monologue on servicing his black pecker. In 2016, there was The Girl on the Train. Nobody needs to remember that one.
But we don’t get whodunit films like Murder on the Orient Express anymore. This is an old-fashioned, Sherlock Holmes/ “Clue”-styled film, complete with a lead character who’s unrealistically talented at what he does – he actually says, “I’m probably the greatest detective in the world.” Take that Sherlock Holmes!
Movies like this are not thrillers per se. It’s meant to be fun, in which the objective is simple: To make audiences guess and second guess themselves as we try to piece the puzzle alongside our lead character. The clues are usually in plain sight, but dipshits like me never pick up on it, because I’m usually too engrossed in the conversations that are taking place between our various characters.
Sadly… Murder on the Orient Express completely fails to reach its objective.
Our lead detective is Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh. He desperately requires his two eggs to be the exact same size (as in literal chicken eggs, you pervert) and gets annoyed when one’s tie is loose. In one scene, he accidentally steps on shit, with one foot. He then places his other foot in shit too, all in the name of maintaining balance. He’s crazy smart and crazy crazy, and Branagh plays this character perfectly.
He’s very obviously having the time of his life. Completely unrecognisable (thanks to some excellent work from the makeup department), Branagh loses himself in the role. It’s not easy to play a man who’s smarter than everyone else in the room, has slightly annoying traits and yet is charming at the same time. But Kenneth Branagh makes it looks easy. It’s because of his magnetism that this movie even remotely works.
The rest of the train is filled with famous people cast because they are famous people. We have Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Willem Defoe and a bunch of other famous people that I can’t remember and frankly do not care about.
To be fair, I don’t actually care about any of them. This has nothing to do with the cast themselves, but the writing, which is borderline abysmal. I use the word borderline because I don’t want to totally diss Michael Green, who also penned the excellent “Logan” and “Blade Runner 2049”. Even great talents have off days.
All the supporting characters are one dimensional with one-liner background stories. I think Judi Dench plays a snobby rich person, or something. Michelle Pfeiffer wants to get laid. Willem Defoe says racist stuff. Josh Gad cries (he cries pretty well). Johnny Depp plays Johnny Depp. And, Daisy Ridley is really pretty. Oh, I just remembered something. A not-so-popular actor named Leslie Odom Jr plays a black guy. I think he’s only cast in the movie because all the more famous black guys are either busy or are named Jaden Smith (GTFO Twitter, you dumbass).
The supporting characters sorta just stand around doing and saying nothing remotely interesting. The only reason I didn’t fall asleep is because I kept telling myself maybe Daisy Ridley will pull out a lightsaber and whoop some asses. She didn’t. For a movie like this to work, we need to understand all supporting characters (whom are all murder suspects) on a more personal level, especially considering the ‘dramatic’ twist ending. If we don’t understand or care about these characters, why would we care who killed who what where how?
Seriously, you cast a bunch of famous people and not have them even talk to each other? This has got to be the easiest paycheck in Judi Dench’s lengthy career. The characters need to build relationships with one another, and through that, we should learn who they are. Let’s see some friendships build and arguments break. How about a sex scene on the pastry table in the kitchen? Give me something! Anything.
Kenneth Branagh (who’s also the director) and Michael Green also don’t do a good job when it comes to building suspense. Not once throughout the movie did I try to figure out who did it, which is kinda the essence of a whodunit film, isn’t it? The beauty of a good mystery film is how it can make you go, omg, how did I not see that? But there aren’t enough (or any) clues left around for audiences to actually try and figure anything out.
A twist does not have to be unpredictable. But it has to be powerful and more importantly, it has to make sense. I can’t say the twist here doesn’t make sense (it somewhat does), but it isn’t the least bit impactful. My exact reaction when it happened was okay, cools. The twist in this movie only works IF and only IF we got to know the characters’ backstory.
Another redeeming quality about this movie, besides Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot, is its aesthetics. Together with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and production designer Jim Clay, Branagh has crafted one of the most good-looking movies of the year.
When Hercule Poirot first gets on board the Orient Express, there is a beautiful tracking shot used from the outside of the train, as we follow Poirot and Michelle Pfeiffer’s character as they journey through the train. Branagh also uses an interesting Alfred Hitchcock “Dial M For Murder”-esque angle from high above, a couple of times during the movie, that does a good job in creating tension in tight spaces as.
I can’t call Murder on the Orient Express a terrible movie. There is an obvious amount of care that has been put into the film’s aesthetics. It is stylistically brilliant. Now, if only Kenneth Branagh showed that level of care and attention towards the actual meat of the film.
Murder on the Orient Express
It is stylistically brilliant. Now, if only Kenneth Branagh showed that level of care and attention towards the actual meat of the film.