“Murder on the Orient Express” a modern adaptation of a fantastic mystery

Alex Davidson

Staff Writer

When it comes to murder mysteries, especially in movies, it can be hard to make a puzzle that is both entertaining and challenging.

In trying to walk such a fine line, an easy bet is to take the “Queen of Mystery” Agatha Christie’s most famous character Hercule Poirot from “The Murder on the Orient Express.” However, this book has been adapted enough times that doing something new and interesting with it is no easy feat, but the newest version does so with aplomb.

Directed and starred in by Kenneth Branagh and produced by Ridley Scott, this version of the seminal story could have been a train wreck. Many famous stories have been adapted into movies full of A-list stars and with Oscar-winning directors and huge budgets only to disappoint the audience and disgrace the source material. Luckily, this one did not fall into that hole.

Branagh in particular was a fantastic choice for the part of Poirot, the Belgian detective famed for solving nearly-unsolvable mysteries. He brings a charisma and depth to a character that, while always entertaining, was mostly defined by his intellect in every other portrayal and even in the original novels.

That’s not to disregard the rest of the cast. Almost every person on the train where the murder takes place is well-known for being good at what they do, and they don’t disappoint here. Michelle Pfeiffer, especially, did a fantastic job with her character, playing her with an amount of emotion that is difficult to pull off in a movie where the screen time has to be split equally between twelve people. Daisy Ridley was also a joy to watch, playing the mystery aficionado Mary Debenham who is both a suspect and confidant to Poirot.

There was one character that could have been done better, though: Samuel Ratchett, played by Johnny Depp. While Depp is good in some roles, such as in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, here he feels a bit out of place, playing an art forger and never really making it believable. Luckily, he doesn’t get quite as much screen time, and when he is on he doesn’t take the audience too much out of the film.

While a movie such as this relies heavily on the characters to convey the plot, the actual plot of the movie has to be executed perfectly. Mystery movies such as this can be difficult to make, because showing too much can make it obvious, but if the audience isn’t shown enough, they might feel cheated because the mystery is literally unsolvable.

The best mysteries are the ones that aren’t necessarily easy to solve, but when the reveal comes, it all makes sense and you realize that you should have seen it coming a mile away. This film manages to balance perfectly on that line, being both complex and simple at the same time; when the reveal does come, it’s earned.

Since this story has been adapted three other times, it may seem like there isn’t much to do with it. However, the thing that sets this version apart from the others is the style. It feels distinctly like the 1930s, but at the same time manages to be sleek and modern.

The first trailer of the film had neon captions next to each suspect as they said something upon finding out about the murder, with the song “Believer,” by Imagine Dragons playing in the background. That sets the mood for the film perfectly, with the slick colors and lights being both reminiscent of 1930s Europe and the 1970s New York night life. The costumes, as well, evoke a modern feel while still feeling right for the time the film takes place in.

Overall, “Murder on the Orient Express” was a good film. If you aren’t aware of the story, definitely see this version, as it is easily the most watchable, due to its distinct style and fantastic cast. And, even if you have experience with it, this adaptation brings something entirely new to the table without losing what makes the story so iconic.