Murder on the Orient Express

I now realize that writing a spoiler-free review on a murder mystery is exceptionally difficult. How do I say what was good about the film while avoiding any mention of who the murderer is, what their motive is, and how the plot thickens? The answer, in short, is that I can’t. I will discuss the movie spoiler-free for the first portion of this post, but I will discuss specific plot elements at the end of the post. Don’t worry; I will provide a spoiler alert before I launch into the details.

I had been meaning to see this movie for some time, but didn’t get around to it until recently. A film inspired by an Agatha Christie novel, starring a Hogwarts professor, Hollywood’s favorite pirate, a Jedi in training, the voice of Olaf, a super-villain, and Hamilton’s Aaron Burr, I would have enjoyed this movie for the actors alone. Although I wasn’t personally familiar with each actor, virtually everyone in the film was a star, and it was really enjoyable seeing them all come together for this performance.

In a nutshell, the film portrays the legendary detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), who only wants some peace and quiet after solving yet another crime. However, when he books a ticket back to his home from Jerusalem, he ends up inadvertently thrown into the most convoluted murder mystery that he has ever been involved in. By the end of the film, Hercule has come to realize that not everything is always morally black and white, but there is sometimes grey area to be found.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express. The acting was wonderful, and the story was well-written. The story’s message, while stated rather plainly, was nonetheless still impactful. The pacing kept me in suspense, always awaiting the uncovering of the next clue. This film does require the viewer to be attentive, to actively engage with the story and carefully analyze the characters. In that sense, the movie is quite demanding, but that did not in any way lessen my enjoyment of it. I would highly recommend seeing this film. I was greatly entertained by it, and for reasons I will explain in a moment, would rate it an eight out of ten.

 

Yes, the time has come for spoilers. I am about to discuss specific elements of the story: whodunit, who died, and what the motive was. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, please do yourself a favor and go watch it before you read any further.

Still reading? Alright, so I’ll assume that you have seen the movie. You may have noticed that at the beginning of my post, I said “…who the murderer is, what their motive is…” and yes, I know that “what their motive is” is grammatically and politically incorrect. However, considering the outcome of the film, I think that this phrase best sums up the plot, because the murder was (drumroll): everyone!

Yeah, that’s right. When Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is murdered, it is by every other passenger’s hand that he dies. This is why it takes so long for Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery: because the abundance of evidence actually makes it more difficult for him to pinpoint any one perpetrator of the crime.

In short, every passenger on the train has some sort of grievance with Ratchett, all tied to the fact that years ago, he murdered a young girl named Daisy. Daisy’s death impacted a lot of people, and many of them wanted revenge. Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) was particularly adamant in her pursuit of revenge, so much so that she tracks down other people who share her grief and convinces them to help her murder Ratchett.

And…I don’t know, it left me wanting a little more. When Hercule Poirot lines up the passengers to tell them that he knows who the murderer is, I was on the edge of my seat for the big reveal. And then it was everyone? So all my careful attention, all my own theories, were completely faulty? Because when everyone forms predictions and each guess is kind of right, it just feels a bit disappointing. Even if my prediction had been wrong (I thought it was Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz)), I would have been intrigued to see who the real culprit was. But the fact that everyone was guilty seemed at first like the easy way out, in terms of writing.

However, as the theme was further developed, the fact that everyone is guilty actually left me contemplating the story’s main point. It drives home the overarching theme that can best be seen when Hercule Poirot says to the passengers, “I thought there was black, and there was white. I see now that there is also grey … There are no murderers on this train.”

Because of my conflicted feelings over the ending, I would say that the movie can’t be rated higher than a nine out of ten…and yet, I think that’s what Agatha Christie wanted when she wrote the book. Admittedly, I have not read the original book, but I observe that the goal of this film was not to leave the audience satisfied, but contemplative. And the film certainly achieved that. So, even if the movie as it is written is not capable of achieving a ten-star ranking, I think that was intentional. (Which, you could debate, means that it still should be a ten-star film, since it achieved exactly what it was trying to achieve…I don’t know exactly what to make of that.)

Finally, I rank the film one star lower because the characters of the Count and Countess were introduced sloppily, halfway through the film, and just didn’t fit into the grand picture of the story very smoothly. While they may fit into the story very well in the original novel, in this adaptation, the characters just don’t really make sense, and I think the film would have been just as strong without them.

In conclusion, Murder on the Orient Express was an excellent film on all accounts. From brilliant casting and acting, to a meaningful and relevant theme and message, to an intriguing plot and a great pace, I greatly enjoyed this film. Whether it gets eight stars or nine (again, up for debate), I found it very entertaining, and I certainly recommend that you watch it: it is two hours well spent.

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