Here is the transcript for my review of Murder on the Orient Express, which aired Nov. 15 on Episode 92 of The Bridge.
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What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress and this is Five Minutes in the Film Room.
It’s a little weird to say I knew nothing about Murder on the Orient Express until I saw the trailer for the 2017 remake, but here we are. My friend actually texted me while I was mowing the lawn and said, ‘That Murder on the Orient Express looks good,’ and I had no idea what she was talking about. So I went to YouTube and watched the trailer.
Now, I usually say movies really only need one trailer, especially for a person like me who sees a movie at least once a week, but I never believed that more so than after watching the teaser for Murder on the Orient Express. Someone has died on a train, this is the amazing ensemble cast of which one of them did it and the person left to figure it out happens to be Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective in the world.
Sign … Me … Up
Here’s some of the cast. Try to keep up. Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Aaron Burr himself, Leslie Odom Jr., Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer and the star of the newest Star Wars trilogy, Daisy Ridley.
What more do you need? … Let’s go to the tape.
While starring in the film as Hercule Poirot, Branagh also serves as director. And his touch on the movie is felt early on. When you’re watching a Branagh directed film, it’s probably going to look beautiful. I learned this most with the first Thor, where Branagh creates the gorgeous realm of Asgard, complete with the illustrious rainbow bridge.
In Murder on the Orient Express, it became evident early on this would be a nice movie just to look at. And it wasn’t just the color. The tracking shots and the movement of the camera within the confined space of a train made the scenes exciting when they easily could have felt stagnant and boring. So the direction was excellent, because Branagh had a clear handle on the movie he wanted to make.
He’s also incredible acting in the lead role. In a stacked cast, he stands out as the best. It’s probably a waste of my breath to also say the rest of the cast was solid too because of its caliber, but some shined brightest. Pfeiffer was probably the best of the supporting cast, but I also enjoyed Ridley and I’m a big Dafoe fan and he brought it again.
I also thought with such a big cast, this movie did an amazing job balancing all the talent. You learn something about each character or at least what the characters want you to know. Again this is all a testament to Branagh’s spectacular direction. Just to add to it, the production design really brings you into the time period of the 1930s.
But this mystery would be made or broken by its substance. What is the payoff? This had to be a good story.
The film kicks off showing you the character of Poirot and his intelligence by giving him a crime to solve. What bothered me there was the opening crime didn’t seem that difficult to solve. I do understand Poirot thinks he is the greatest detective in the world and we eventually learn this as we watch him interact with people. It does a nice job showing how he looks at the world in a different way than everyone else. But as far as the opening scene, I was about as unimpressed as gymnast McKayla Maroney.
The rest of the way, the story is sound and keeps you on the edge of your seat with a good payoff. Going into this film, I more so expected a Clue. More of a fun murder mystery. And the beginning tone will have you believe that. The movie starts with a light tone with a good amount of humor. But there’s a point to it, because this movie has so much more substance than a fun mystery with some humor. It pushes the main character Poirot to places he has never gone in his career. It gives him growth and makes him relatable. I was pleasantly surprised.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Murder on the Orient Express is a beautifully shot and well-acted film driven by the phenomenal directing of Branagh. The story succeeds, providing thrills and a good payoff. I don’t if the movie made any changes from the novel or the 1974 film, but I do know this 2017 version does work for those who have never experienced the original properties. I was surprised to see the mixed reviews on this. Maybe that comes from comparing it to the 1974 film, but I don’t think it can be denied that the film-making is top-notch, the entertainment value is very much there and flaws are few and far between.
I’ll rank Murder on the Orient Express as Pau Gasol, who is my second Spurs power forward to get a movie named after him. Gasol has a reputation for being soft, but his talent and numbers cannot be denied. Also, Kobe doesn’t get to five championships without Pau Gasol.