Detective movies, TV series, and true crime podcasts are all the rage. While some procedural programs like the "CSI" franchise have long since become long in the tooth, there are gems that really grab an audience’s attention.
When “Murder on the Orient Express” was rebooted and released in 2017, many moviegoers flocked to cinemas during the Thanksgiving season to watch one of the ultimate whodunnit stories.
Based on Agatha Christie’s acclaimed best seller, the film boasts an all-star cast including Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”), Daisy Ridley (The “Star Wars” sequels), Michelle Pfeiffer and Dame Judi Dench.
The eponymous murder takes place during an avalanche when the titular train gets stuck in the mountains hallways between Istanbul and Calais, France. A man named Ratchet is murdered in his sleep while the dozen or so other passengers and wait staff become possible suspects in the case.
Enter Hercule Poirot, the famous fictional Belgian detective played by actor/director Kenneth Branagh. He and his prominent mustache are already on board by happenstance and he solves the case before the train gets back under way and the murderer disappears.
The clues appear little by little but they confuse Poirot, leaving the detective wondering why the current events remind him a years-old murder case that took place in the United States before the film’s events.
There are some things that stand out in this film for both good and not. The sparse CGI is used the establishing shot as the train leaves Istanbul and for the avalanche effects used midway through the film; the use of practical effects and displaying real train cars made it feel authentic.
The camera movement was especially fascinating to watch; two scenes in particular stand out. When Poirot boards the train, the camera follows outside in a tracking shot as he walks the train’s length to get to his cabin. He meets each of the subsequent passengers, and you get a sense of their personality without any unnecessary exposition.
The second scene is when Poirot investigates the other cabins, looking for evidence of the killer; an overhead shot positions the camera through a false ceiling and follows him out of each cabin, into the corridor, and into the next cabin.
As for those things that stand out for the wrong reasons, there is a sense that Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the murder victim is kind of the kickstart to his current troubles. Almost like an ironic send off. It’s shame to see an amazing actor so underused.
There are other elements requiring a heavy suspension of disbelief regarding possible historical and cultural anachronisms that involve the casting. While character changes do happen when books transition into films, these changes felt a little forced even if the actors performed wonderfully in their roles.
It is highly recommended to watch this before Branagh’s follow-up, “Murder on the Nile,” is released this winter... maybe???