Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh brings to life Agatha Christie's mystery novel and performs as the clever detective Hercule Poirot. The film begins with Hercule solving a mystery in Jerusalem with his amazing skills before he takes a ship to Istanbul on which he meets Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) and Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) who have a secret between them. He needs to return to London for a very important case and there is only one option, the Orient Express. Bouc (Tom Bateman) runs the train so he is able to arrange for Poirot to have a room. The detective is looking forward to a trip without any mysteries to solve so when Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches him asking for help against a possible plot to kill him, Poirot refuses. 

However, when Poirot awakes, they find Ratchett has been stabbed multiple times in his bed. The Orient Express has been stalled by an avalanche so Bouc is desperate to solve the case before the police arrive. Poirot agrees to take the case and begins to interrogate each of the passengers aboard the train and search Ratchett's compartment for clues. The biggest clue is a partially burned note that reveals a connection to the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong. The film lost me a bit with this leap as Poirot is very familiar with the kidnapping and Ratchett is, in fact, the kidnapper John Cassetti. There was more than one victim as Daisy's mother died from a premature birth and her husband killed himself. The maid was accused and killed herself in police custody as the prosecutor's career was ruined by the false arrest.

Poirot interviews each of the occupants. Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Ruffo) is a man who had great success in the selling of cars. Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz) is a religious woman who has a dark past. Hector Macqueen (Josh Gad) worked for Ratchett and tries to cover up his money laundering of Ratchett's earnings by burning his accounting papers. Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi) also worked as a valet for Ratchett but was diagnosed with stomach cancer so had become disrespectful of his employer. Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) searches for a husband and claims to have heard someone that night rummaging around in her room. Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her helper Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman) take care of their little dogs and claim to have slept through the murder. Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) is anxious to get to a convention until Poirot reveals that he is, in fact, a Pinkerton agent sent to protect Ratchett.

All of the passengers are connected to the Armstrong murder in various ways and Poirot steadily uncovers their relations. Dr. Arbuthnot takes a shot at Poirot but misses so Hercule uses his fighting skill to disarm the former sharpshooter. The Armstrong family had a profound effect, from funding Marquez's first business to being a close relationship with Dragomiroff. Hardman was in love with the nursemaid while Pilar had been taking care of Daisy Armstrong the night she was captured. Macqueen was the sun of the disgraced prosecutor while Dr. Arbuthnot was able to become a doctor due to Armstrong's recommendation. Mary Debenham was the governess to the Armstrongs. Caroline Hubbard is really Linda Arden, the famous actress, and grandmother to Daisy Armstrong who gathered them all together. Each one of them took part in the murder and tries to take the blame but Poirot refuses to blame any of them so he claims the killer escaped. 

Murder on the Orient Express was enjoyable for me because I had no clue what the mystery was but I very quickly realized the solution. Agatha Christie's novel sets up a great murder mystery to be copied. Branagh's Poirot grew on me throughout the film as I felt he looked a bit ridiculous at first but found him funny and clever throughout the solution of the mystery. The all-star cast elevates this film but they feel like they were underused for the most part. The film looks great and the cinematography was entertaining but the film does not push into greatness. I liked the film more than a thought so it was a pleasant surprise for a trip to the theater. 

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