REVIEW: Inconsistent Tone Derails ‘Orient Express’

Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this most recent adaptation of the 1934 Agatha Christie novel.

The film opens with the story’s protagonist, Hercule Poirot (Branagh) investigating a mystery in Jerusalem. After Poirot solves the mystery in quick, convincing fashion, he’s invited to ride on the luxurious Orient Express by his friend Buoc (Tom Bateman) to get a break from all the detective work.

While on board, Poirot meets a number of characters on the fully booked Orient Express, including a sneaky business man named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp). After a night where the train is halted because of a blocked railroad, Poirot discovers that Ratchett has been murdered. As a result, Poirot must now solve the murder and uncover clues about Ratchett and the other passengers.

Being a “who dun it” type of mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express” takes the slow burn approach. It doesn’t move at a fast pace as other modern mystery adaptations have done, such as the recent “Sherlock Holmes” films with Robert Downey Jr.

The film’s slower pace isn’t a detriment, though, as it works in letting the audience admire the scenery of the period piece. However, while the pacing doesn’t create many flaws, others pop up in different areas.

For example, the tone in “Murder on the Orient Express” is wildly inconsistent. Having not read the novel, I can only go by what I’ve seen in the movie, and the film doesn’t do any favors. Poirot, and many of the other characters, are all very quirky, at times making the film seem more like a charming classic comedy. At others, though, the film tries to become much more serious, from Ratchett’s background to Poirot mourning the death of his wife. It contrasts rather visibly and can take a viewer out of the experience.

Additionally, it’s not an easy film for an audience to access and follow along with the unraveling mystery. The clues often don’t add up or aren’t well shown to the audience, leaving the viewer in the dark and not able to be participants in the mystery. This is an important staple of most mystery pictures as the audience can decipher the case along with the detective.

This ultimately leads into the film’s third act reveal. Again, I understand that this was told first in a novel, and maybe it works better in print. However, in the film it doesn’t have much of an impact, in fact it feels more like a cop out. Everything about the final reveal feels too coincidental and how the whole thing is wrapped up is anti-climactic.

It’s a shame that this flick has these flaws because it has such an extensive, talented cast. For reference, this movie has two Oscar winners and four Academy Award nominees. While the cast is alright here, though, the interactions that come up mostly by way of questioning and interrogations are somewhat dull and they tend to drag. Again, this coincides with the tone being sometimes humorous and sometimes serious. It all seemed to stem from a script that had a lack of teeth, there just wasn’t enough tension.

With all of that said, the movie is gorgeous to look at. The set and costume design is on point, recreating the late 1920s/early 1930s era on a luxury train with expensive clothing. Plus, there is some fantastic cinematography, both with interesting shots on the train to keep things unique and extreme long shots that show off the landscape and the beautiful train.

“Murder on the Orient Express” has its fair share of issues that drag it down, but there are some nice things going on here thanks to the cast and crew. Not all of it works, so it’s not something to rush out to the theater for, but it’s fine for renting. 2.9 out of 5.

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