by Molly Schiltz, FILM CRITIC
21 November 2017
It’s anyone’s guess who is guilty of murder in the holiday season’s big screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The cast includes, among others, Josh Gad, Dame Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Johnny Depp. The film stars and is directed by Kenneth Branagh. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Murder on the Orient Express keeps you guessing at every turn before you realize you might as well just stop guessing and wait until the grand reveal at the end, for you will never solve the mystery before the esteemed investigator Hercule Poirot.
This highly entertaining movie will keep you thinking to the very end. Its engaging plot and multiplex characters keep viewers engrossed throughout this suspenseful film.
In this complex mystery, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) attempts to uncover the truth behind a murder that occurs on the Orient Express as all the passengers are stuck on the confines of the train together.
Poirot has strong convictions that lend to his ability to comb out the truth, saying in a conversation early on: “And whatever people say, there is right, and there is wrong, there is never in between.”
This sense of right and wrong is put to the test throughout the movie as more and more disturbing truths come to light and the gray areas in life are recognized and confronted.
When called upon to solve a case in England, Poirot is offered a spot on the already-full Orient Express by a member of the company, his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman).
During the opening scenes viewers watch the train slowly fill up, as character after character is introduced and joins the company on board. The whole time, you are already wondering: Which one of them is the killer?
There is a governess (Daisy Ridley) and doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.) whose odd exchange at the beginning leaves Poirot questioning whether the two may or may not know one another. Also among those travelling are Austrian professor Hardman going to his conference (Willem Dafoe), a silly, flamboyant woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a zealous missionary who warns everyone of their impending doom (Penélope Cruz), and an illegitimate business entrepreneur who likes to point his gun in people’s faces (Johnny Depp).
These passengers, joined by Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), McQueen (Josh Gad), and Beddoes (Derek Jacobi) join the others for the harrowing ride with this all star- cast that leaves every character memorable. Each character has a unique personality that adds something to the story- be it heightened suspicion or a bit of comic relief, the array of dispositions is fascinating and makes the movie all the more captivating.
Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh plays two pivotal roles in Murder on the Orient Express: the most recognizable as the undaunted detective Hercule Poirot, the second as the mastermind director behind the scenes of one of the big screen spectacles of the year. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
On one night of the journey during a terrible snowstorm the train is derailed and incapacitated due to the large snow drifts. The next morning, everyone wakes up from the eventful night to find that during all the excitement, the shady, unpopular Ratchett was murdered. This leads to unease and suspicion as Poirot is asked to investigate the murder and discover the perpetrator as the passengers are stuck with one another.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. This goes for both the clues dropped along the way as well as the subtle facial expressions offered by the characters.
Viewers are left chasing their own tails in circles for the entirety of the movie, jumping to conclusions and winding up at dead ends, much like Poirot, to his frustration, as he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Part of the fun of the movie is that nothing can be glimpsed about the murder. Because McQueen seems more likely to do it but has an alibi, while Hardman seems unassuming but has something off about him, and all of the other characters have their own traits that suddenly seem odd in the wake of a murder, viewers can’t be sure who the real killer is. You think that none of the characters seem like killers before realizing one of them has to be, and then begin overanalyzing every one of their actions.
This movie is a fun challenge in that it keeps viewers thinking throughout the entirety of the movie while also toying with them the whole time. Viewers are left chasing their own tails in circles for the entirety of the movie, jumping to conclusions and winding up at dead ends, much like Poirot, to his frustration, as he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The charm and grandeur depicted also adds to a lavish backdrop that stands in stark contrast to the dark undertones of the plot as suspicion sets in and Poirot questions who might be the killer. Sparkling lights and glittering jewels juxtapose the situation the characters find themselves in when they cast a harsh glow upon each character’s face during dramatic moments, highlighting the severity of the situation. Even the characters’ mannerisms and attire seem somewhat ironic at points.
The movie is all about people and the examination of their interactions with one another. While it is not without its deficits, the movie’s surprisingly touching dealings with conscience and grief serve as a touching abode to the viewer. By the time you finish the movie, you might find your sense of right and wrong skewed, and your idea of justice somewhat altered. As you’ll come to find the question isn’t simply, Whodunnit?
The question is also why?
There is much left up to the viewer to decide in terms of what is right and what is wrong. But all that is for certain, is that things are not always cast in black and white. Sometimes shadows cast gray hues, and in the gray, one can find peace.
Molly Schiltz is a film critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL