Blockbuster cinema hasn’t focused on the whodunnit genre nearly as much as it has on others in recent decades, so the snowy sojourn of the Orient Express this fall is nothing if not different. But it’d be untrue to say that contemporary moviegoers aren’t intimately familiar with—and always half expecting—the plot twist that comes with the classic murder mystery. In that respect, this adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express fits within the standards of the day.
Based on a 1934 novel that was part of Agatha Christie’s prolific library of titles, the script—tackled by writer Michael Green, who we can blame for the 2011 Green Lantern trainwreck—is smart. We were expecting boredom at the hands of England’s English from 80 years ago, so the crisp exchanges between globetrotting characters keep the plot chugging along at a unexpected clip. Even under that amazing mustache, director and starring actor Kenneth Branagh’s diction as the best detective on the planet, Hercule Poirot, didn’t waver. Johnny Depp’s mouthful of East Coast gangster is a little mushy, but we don’t linger on him long enough; there’s too much else to look at, and listen to. Cowabunga! Michelle Pfieffer had it going on in a sexed-up role in Mother earlier this year, but her portrait of longing lady Caroline Hubbard is a standout in the loaded cast. Beside them, Judi Dench as a Russian princess feels almost as unnecessary as Willem Defoe as a German professor. Or is he? Is she?
The setting is remarkably lovely. From the cerulean shores of Malta through mountainous terrain somewhere between Paris and Istanbul, audiences are no doubt loving the escapism of this retelling the way we did. But, like every other movie made from a book, readers who want a movie version of the tome will be disappointed. Come on, though—how many of us actually read the thing or remember how it ends? We’ve gone out of our way here to not so much hint at the end. Let us know if you figured it out before the big reveal.
+Lovely and captivating
– Tying loose ends into a bow at the end isn't all that fun
Murder on the Orient Express
Directed by Branagh
With Branagh, Depp, Dench and Dafoe
Regal, Violet Crown, PG-13, 116 min.