Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder On The Orient Express movie poster and film review by Matthew Hepburn

Maybe it was the festive season or the many years spent commuting to London by train that made me want to see Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, 2017), but either way I’m glad I did. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my mother and grandmother, who were sitting beside me, and already knew the story too well from its previous incarnations. 

What I liked about the film?

There was so much room for this Agatha Christie film adaptation to turn out like a “TV movie” that I was skeptical about seeing it at the cinema. But the magnificent landscapes and sheer opulence of the Orient Express made it a sight to behold on the big screen. It’s like watching Downton Abbey on speed, ploughing through snowy mountains and narrowly missing an avalanche. There was no holding back on the production values with this movie.

However, it takes more than a few bone china plates and Godiva cakes to win me over. It was actually the build up to the passengers boarding the train from the platform that really got me. The hustle and bustle of the departure, captured through the parallel action, really brought to life the excitement of travelling on such a luxury vehicle. While the long take from outside the train, as detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) walks through the different compartments, meeting and greeting the various passengers along the way, was an elegant touch of exposition. It was reminiscent of some of the early scenes in The Titanic (James Cameron, 1997), the way it turned impending death into an almost celebratory occasion.

I also like the neon blue font used for the film’s poster, title and credits. It looks like the type of signage you’d see outside a nightclub in Soho. It’s a pointed use of anachronism that instantly modernises the film for an audience who may not be fond of period dramas, or familiar with the original literary work. What’s more, the trailer’s Cluedo-style naming of the characters (“The Governess”, “The Doctor”, “The Maid”, “The Butler”) is a clever use of gamification that complements this contemporary approach.

What didn’t I like about the film?

I didn’t really like the first part of the film, from the issue with the size of the boiled eggs to the inquisition with the Rabbi, Priest and Imam. It felt a bit farcical, and like the film was trying to position Poirot as Sherlock Holmes (the Benedict Cumberbatch version). But the warm orange colour palette of Jerusalem and Istanbul were a nice contrast to the cold white and blue hues that made-up the rest of the film’s surroundings.

On a very minor note, I didn’t like how the film felt it was necessary to use subtitles for when Poirot briefly spoke in French (“mon amour”) about his love interest, Katherine (Emma Thompson). It seemed a little patronising given the grandeur of the production, and inconsiderate given the pan-European nature of the film, especially when other French phrases (“voilà”) were overlooked.

Watch the trailer and learn more about Matthew Hepburn.

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