“The all-star cast and the wonderful direction alone make this movie worth checking out.”
Yesterday I went and saw the 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring almost everyone in Hollywood. Now this review is a kind of continuation of my last review wherein I spoke of the original Murder on the Orient Express book and the 1974 film. So I think I’ll just jump right into this review here.
Now despite the original Murder on the Orient Express book coming out in 1934, I’m going to warn you that this review will have spoilers for Murder on the Orient Express. You have been warned.
While watching the 2017 version Murder on the Orient Express I couldn’t help but continuously wonder how exactly I would right a review about it. Usually when I read a book and then watch a movie I’m able to say “This was done very well in the book, but the translation to film loses some charm” or something to that effect, but with Murder on the Orient Express almost everything is different. I mean, the general story is still there as the skeleton to this murder mystery, but almost all of the fine details have been changed. Now I understand why these changes were made; Murder on the Orient Express was written in 1934 and while it may have been exciting at the time it is kind of boring if you read it today. And While the 1974 film stuck closely to the source material and remained really good, I don’t think a movie with that little action could fly in today’s market (just look at Blade Runner 2049). So a lot of the changes made in Murder on the Orient Express were to update the story, not the time period but story elements themselves, and create a more modern retelling that audiences of today wouldn’t fall asleep while watching. Now I personally thought this change was not only very smart, but that it worked very well. There are people who will defend the source material of any movie just because it came first, but I’m not one of those people. I had fun while reading Murder on the Orient Express, but I can’t say that I wasn’t bored a few times. The way that the story was updated in the new film added a lot of excitement where there otherwise would have been none, and I respected those changes for that reason. One of the biggest changes in this regard was the decision to not withhold any revelations that Poirot picks up on throughout the story. In the book Poirot interviews every single person on the train twice, and then essentially says “I got it” and solves the crime. We don’t get any insight into his actual detective work because everything is withheld from us to create a mystery that literally can’t be solved without this main character. In this new film every ‘clue’ is revealed to the audience in real-time. Now I can’t really speak to whether or not this makes the mystery too easy to solve seeing as I already knew the outcome while watching it, but it at the very least allowed the audience to feel as though something was happening. Let’s face it: fourteen people on a train talking to one another isn’t really gripping. We need some form of mile marker to show us that we’re actually moving along in the story, and that’s exactly what the revelation of clues did. Murder on the Orient Express also added a lot of humour into the story as a way to kind of update it. The original story is rather dry (apart from M. Bouc always blaming the Italian for everything), but this updated version is actually pretty funny. Now I’m sure some people will find this change pointless or detrimental, especially if they argue that it made Murder on the Orient Express less unique. I will admit that Poirot was turned into a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (the Robert Downey Jr. version)-esque character, but that’s because people like those kinds of characters. I found these comedic changes to work very well with the story
Now out of all of the changes in the movie (of which there are too many to name so I’ll just stick to the ‘highlight reel’) there are of course good ones and bad ones. Now obviously, just like the rest of this review, this opinion is subjective but in my opinion some of the changes made in Murder on the Orient Express just didn’t make sense. For instance: Why did Mrs. Hubbard get stabbed in the back with the murder weapon? Why couldn’t she have just found it in her bag? Was I to believe that the murderer ran in, stabbed her in the back, and then ran out? Or was the knife on a high shelf and it just fell and impaled her? Either way: Why? Changes like this really make me wonder why people mess with things that already work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But there were some changes that actually worked in my opinion; like, for instance, the changing of MacQueen’s relationship to the murder. Sure the book had no problem in this regard, but the movie allowed for us to feel for the character while also separating itself from other passengers on the train (love was a huge factor in the original story). But the biggest change in my opinions (which is actually just a bunch of smaller changes) is what went on with the characters in Murder on the Orient Express. I guess we’ll start with the most to least drastic change, and of course that list would begin with Colonel Arbuthnot. In the original story, a doctor boards the train at a different station and sleeps in a different car than everyone else. This means that he can’t possibly be the murderer, which gives Poirot access to an unbiased medical professional (important when examining the body). Unfortunately in this film the doctor is nowhere to be found, but is instead replaced with Arbuthnot who is medically trained. Why couldn’t they just add another character? Poirot states that everyone on the train is a suspect, yet he allows one of the suspects to fuck with the body? And even worse, he takes that man’s word? I don’t know how smart Poirot is, but Arbuthnot could have misled him like 30 different ways with his examination. “Oh no, he died three months ago”, “Nah, it’s just a bunch of paper cuts”, “Oh, it looks like he had the plague”. I know those examples are a little outlandish, but the point still stands. How hard would it have been to have another character who could act as an unbiased source? Other changes that are less important but still stuck out to me include: The changing of the American salesman to an Austrian(?) professor, and the temper issues that the Count suffers from (seriously, that dude was like the Hulk). One thing that interested me not only about this version of Murder on the Orient Express but also the 1974 version were the different ways that Poirot was seen by the writers. In the original book, Poirot is a kind of everyman. He’s smart, but he doesn’t flaunt it. In the 1974 version he is written like a complete asshole, always making sure that everyone knows he is better than them. I assumed this was a fluke, and the writer of the film just picked up on something in the book that I had overlooked. It turns out this isn’t an uncommon practice because in the new film Poirot is portrayed in yet another unseen way. In the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot is written in a way that almost makes him seem persecuted. The way he acts, especially during the ending of the film, was actually pretty funny to me because he was acting as though he was being bullied by everyone. Poirot is supposed to be the dude who solves the case, he isn’t supposed to care what people think about him. This Poirot was very emotional, always taking things personally. And I understand that he got shot, and it’s hard to not take that personally, but this motherfucker was almost crying when he found out that someone lied to him. Like dude, they killed a man, they aren’t going to tell you the truth. It’s nothing personal. I’m almost inclined to check out every other adaptation of this story to see how Poirot is portrayed by different actors and writers, because I find it very interesting.
One thing that was pretty dramatically changed in this version of Murder on the Orient Express was the ending of the film. Now the conclusion is still more or less the same (a few smaller details were changed), but what changed was the way the news was delivered. I already mentioned the change in Poirot’s character, but this change kind of impacted all of the characters in this final section. The ending of the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express was very melodramatic. Everyone was crying, there were these emotional reactions, there were screams, someone tried to shoot themselves in the head at one point; it was just a mess. Now when thinking of the story and the events that had unfolded beforehand: these reactions aren’t out of place. All of these people had a very emotional connection to the case that caused them to kill Ratchett, so of course they were invested in the outcome. The ending gets weird when you compare it to the original story, and even more weird when you compare it to the 1974 film. In the original story Poirot essentially says “I know you guys did it, but we’re cool” and then the story ends. In the 1974 movie the same happens, but then there is a weird montage of everyone drinking and celebrating. This didn’t fit at all with the story. The new film has the best ending of the three in my opinion. It actually takes into account that killing someone, despite what they’ve done, is serious business. It also gives Poirot’s decision time to evolve with the audience. At first he is adamant about telling the truth, but then he realizes that Ratchett was a piece of shit so he’ll just lie. It’s not a perfect ending, but I like it the best out of the ones that I’ve seen.
Now there are just a few more things I want to discuss and the first actually builds off of my last point. Another reason I like the ending of the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express is because of the performances. Murder on the Orient Express features an all-star cast in every sense of the word. Not only are these people well-known, but they are also all really good at what they do; this fact is best showcased during the ending of the film. I don’t have time to name everyone individually but know that every single person did an amazing job bringing their character to life, changes and all. I also thought that the set and costume design in Murder on the Orient Express were all done very well. I felt that things fit into the time period of the film, while still remaining grounded in reality. The train itself was beautiful, and the decision to include the ability for the characters to leave the train was pretty smart. But to me the star of this film wasn’t one of the many actors, but the director (who, funnily enough, actually is one of the actors). Murder on the Orient Express is an absolutely stunning film. From start to end it takes every single opportunity to take your breath away that it can. You would think that there is only so much you can do when the entire movie is set on a train, but you would be wrong. Kenneth Branagh constantly invents new ways of immersing the audience into the film, and also getting the most out of the surroundings. The set and costume design are so beautiful because Branagh made them beautiful. I’m not disparaging the work of the countless people who came together to create these sets and costumes, but the direction of Murder on the Orient Express was truly something to behold.
Overall the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express was a pretty good movie. It changed a lot about the original story (some good, some bad), but it had an ending that I liked more than the one written by Agatha Christie. The all-star cast and the wonderful direction alone make this movie worth checking out. If you want to go straight to the source read the Murder on the Orient Express book. If you want to go straight to the source but don’t like reading watch the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express film. If you want to have fun watch the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express film.
I give Murder on the Orient Express (2017) a B