For two hours of sheer entertainment, Murder on the Orient Express is perfectly satisfactory and it serves its purpose. I don’t have any big problems with it as a film, and I think it’s actually a great movie to go see on a rainy day with friends or a loved one when there’s nothing else to do. Murder mysteries have always fascinated me, and this one does its job at being intriguing, fun, and different. It’s based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, and there have been a few film adaptations of the same story before, none of which I have seen. As the first version of the story I’ve been exposed to, this new movie entertained me and managed to wrap me up in the excitement of the mystery at hand.
Kenneth Branagh is most definitely the star of this movie, both as the director and as the lead actor. He shines as Hercule Poirot, the self-proclaimed “greatest detective in the world”, trying to solve a murder case on a train. His quick-witted nature and clever way of thinking is incredibly entertaining, which is one of the reasons I enjoy detective films so much. It’s fascinating to watch him put clues together and to figure things out with him, and Branagh’s performance highlights that in the best way.
He also directs the film masterfully, with high contrast in the color palette that makes certain scenes pop in a unique way. I love the look and the feel of the claustrophobic environment that is created by the excellent set design and cinematography, and the enclosed setting plays very well for the story, giving a sense of isolation and unknowing that makes the mystery aspect of the film that much more effective.
The cast of Orient Express is quite extensive, with many big stars cast in supporting roles. Although Branagh is the clear standout, the film also stars names like Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, and Judi Dench, among many others. All of them are good in the roles they’re given, and while some may complain that the characters aren’t given enough depth, I would argue that that’s how it should be in a murder mystery like this. We learn about the characters through what Poirot discovers about them in his investigation and interrogations, but much is left unknown for a while, which heightens the feeling of uncertainty. You don’t truly know anybody, not even the lead character, and you never know who to trust.
The more lighthearted and enjoyable tone of the film at first quickly becomes more serious and focused by the end, and while that tonal shift could have been more smooth, I felt the ending was the strongest part of the story. Once things are revealed about certain characters and the mysterious pieces of the case are uncovered, things come together in a rather powerful final act that gave me chills, if I’m being completely honest. I didn’t expect the emotional payoff I got, and it came from a very well paced finale and fantastic performances across the board. The way the entire film builds to that point is impressive, and while it does slow down at times, I do feel it’s an overall enjoyable experience. I must reiterate, it’s not a perfectly constructed film by any means, but for an engaging and delightful movie with a considerable amount of depth, Murder on the Orient Express works perfectly well as entertainment.
— Camden McDonald