Murder on The Orient Express is a Gorgeous & Loving Homage to The Golden Age of Detective Stories (Review)

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This week it was either Daddy’s Home 2 or Murder on the Orient Express, a choice that pit Mark Wahlberg against Dame Judi Dench for my attentions.  You might think that choice would be obvious and had Mr. Wahlberg worn something sleeveless in the trailer, I would have been helpless.  But as it happened, Daddy’s Home 2 is a Christmas film, all sweaters and snowsuits, so it’s off to Murder on the Orient Express for me.  I’d rather watch Kenneth Branagh than Mel Gibson anyway.

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.


The first thing I noticed about Murder on the Orient Express was how beautifully designed it was, from the blue font of the opening credits and every shot thereafter.  This movie is gorgeous, with such loving care put into every shot, it looked like a labor of love.  So much so, in fact I got the sense that for some of the cast, this was a role they might have taken for fun.  There’s something about a film where people are having a really good time making it and it shows.  I love period pieces, the atmosphere – this film felt like Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them without all the flashy special effects.

 

I’ve never read Agatha Christie and didn’t actually realize that this was a famous novel.  That explains a lot.  Even seeing it was a period piece, there was something about it that was off.  I kept feeling like I should recognize the name Hercules Poirot and not recognize his similarity to Sherlock Holmes.   Our fiction these days is absolutely self-aware, evolved in response to all things before it.  This film didn’t seem that way.  It didn’t worry about its own implausibility.  Had Murder on Orient Express been written these days, doubtless there would have been some reason inserted as to why people wouldn’t just wait for their lawyer to show up instead of cooperating with the nice detective asking overly personal questions.

Oh Kenneth Branagh, I’m so torn about him.  On the one hand, he’s a ham.  He is the director and the lead who is an unusual character in an unusual movie.  And this is not the first time he’s done this.  On the other hand, sometimes it works. And when it works, it really works.  This is one such case.  He did such a good job.  Even the pacing was good but that was because he knows how to make a movie. There was an exciting scene just in the mid point, exactly where it was supposed to be that I suspect the original Agatha Christie novel didn’t have.   Though I get the feeling the original novel was a bit slow by today’s standards, it did drag a bit in the second act.  It felt long.

So is Murder on the Orient Express worth watching?  Yes absolutely.  I’d go see it at the Mill, but I’d go see it.  This movie was charming, impossible not to like, though it was strange, like a play based on a novel written in a different time, which is probably exactly what it was.  I liked the idea of travelling by train, that seems neat. Although I’d probably hate it – Even with the lush velvet and gilded everything, it was still cramped quarters, ceaseless noise and motion; not to mention continual interaction with other passengers.

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