‘Murder on the Orient Express’ isn’t as heavy as the title suggests

The only thing murdered on this train is its flat dialogue

In my opinion, a murder mystery filled with suspense, well-crafted dialogue and one jarring twist topped off with a bucket of buttery popcorn is one of the best uses of 2 hours one can have. It truly is the one genre where you actively engage with the movie by sleuthing along with the detective, and in that capacity, “Murder on the Orient Express” delivers. Unfortunately, the only thing that is really murdered is the dialogue.

When Detective Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh, hops aboard a westbound train filled with strangers, he hopes that his three-day journey will be a nice rest before his upcoming case. When one of the 13 accompanying strangers finds themselves murdered right as the train is derailed, suddenly the game is afoot! Oh sorry — wrong franchise.

Based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, “Murder on the Orient Express” follows Poirot on his search to weed out the murderer among a star-studded cast including Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and more. On his quest for truth he calls into question his ideas of definitive right and wrong all amidst a locomotive of lies and deceit. 

Before the audience can get into the juicy bits of this tantalizing tale, they must first sit through 15 to 20 minutes of uncomfortable scene setting and flat one-liners from Poirot that nearly always miss. This isn’t Branagh’s fault, as lines like “There is always a right and a wrong” don’t quite seem to fit among his misplaced jokes and overly jubilant personality. The beginning's tone just doesn’t seem to mix with the more ominous one we are asked to adopt down the road. 

The simple fix would’ve been to start in the locomotive as it is about to depart, as opposed to the lackluster setup the audience is handed instead. That said, once in the train the pace picks up and things get interesting.

Everyone aboard the train appears suspicious from moment one. Hardly surprising as this is a murder mystery, but the subtly of it all is a nice touch. These characters are also set to the beautiful and stylistic backdrop of the era in which they are placed. Each character is artfully sculpted from the start. There are slight nuances to each that keep the audience guessing throughout, but enough on-the-nose giveaways to make sure the audience feels validated in their assumptions. 

The set design and cinematography of the piece also highlights the idyllic setting that is about to be disrupted beautifully. The film segues into this disturbed peace like an eerie cloud falling upon the audience. It's haunting and gorgeous.

What the film does suffer from is its over-played explanations that again feel flat and overrehearsed. Pepper this with the several other generic statements similar to that what we see from the film’s first act, and it begins to feel like a fly. 

Once you finally forget that there was ever bad dialogue, it flies back around to make you want to swat it away.

If one can manage to ignore this films flaw then they are in for an intriguing hour and 54 minutes of gorgeous and well-executed story telling played by a top of the line cast whose character development is satisfying from the first moment right up to the last. 

If you can’t, then maybe you should steer clear of this one until its home video release.

Overall score: 3/5

“Murder on the Orient Express” is rated PG-13 and hits theaters this Friday.


Reach the reporter at Owen.Baldner@asu.edu or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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