This will not be my usual book review because I just saw a new movie out in theaters and had such strong opinions about it I just had to review it. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Agatha Christie. And my second book that I read by her (after Death on the Nile) was Murder on the Orient Express. It is perhaps my favorite of hers, both because of the twist at the end and because I have an adverse liking to trains.
I am, of course, talking about the new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, released about a month ago on Nov. 10, 2017.
I will be judging this movie as much as the product of an exceptional book as well as by its own credit. I mention this merely for that fact that you, the reader, can see that my opinion will be biased. I cannot separate the book from the movie, and yet this entire review will not be me talking for hours about every little change from book to film. Instead, I want to look at it as a whole.
For those who know nothing of this movie or the book it was based on, it is a cozy mystery set in the 1930s, which follows famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as he attempts to solve a murder committed on the infamous Orient Express, a passenger train which ran through Europe all the way to Istanbul. Now that the basic plot is out of the way, let me get to my review.
Before I continue, let me warn away those sensitive to spoilers from this point forward.
I have many critiques of this movie, both as an adaptation of the book it is based on and by its own credit. But before I bash it into the ground with my literary pen, let me first mention what I thought was done well.
The acting is truly exceptional. The all-star cast certainly does not disappoint. Though I have some critiques of Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot, it has nothing to do with his acting. Johnny Depp made me hate him, Michelle Pfeiffer impressed me with her acting—both in character and in this role—and I absolutely loved Daisy Ridley. Everyone in this film came alive through really good performances.
Above this, the cinematography is incredible. Every angle, every shot is filled with lush imagery. It is a beautiful film to watch, if nothing else. The music as well was rare and well-placed, not too over-dramatic and implemented just as the right times.
I am chagrined to say I liked little else.
I will not go through every change the creators made from book to film, but I will briefly mention things added to the movie that never happened in the book. If you do not care about adaptation, just skip this paragraph. John Armstrong never reached out to Poirot in letter or otherwise in the book. The count was not a violent fiend. The countess’s addiction to drugs was added. So was Poirot’s obsession with his lost love—perhaps this was talking about Countess Vera Rossakoff, but she was never his love. Instead, he admired her like Sherlock Holmes admired Irene Adler. Poirot did not accuse Daisy Ridley’s character in such a scene. The whole scene with the doctor shooting at Poirot to protect Mary seems absurd. Poirot threatening the men coming to help them to stay away from the train until he tells them to return—with a gun too. The final confrontation being inside the tunnel instead of inside the train. The ridiculous notion that Poirot offers to allow them to kill him—how absurd.
And those are just a few details that stuck out to me.
Turning to the main protagonist, Hercule Poirot looks very wrong, even though I love Kenneth Branagh. In the book, he is described as having an egg-shaped head, small height, and black, small, perfectly-trimmed mustache. This does not describe Branagh at all. Though, I will admit Branagh did pull off a pretty decent French accent.
Also, the whole theme of logos (logic) vs. eros (emotion) seemed like it was amped up just to make the movie seemed more dramatic. “You won’t listen to reason,” the doctor says at one point and Poirot responds with, “Never.” And yet this did not make sense at all. Poirot is the one filled with reason and logic. In the end, Poirot makes it seem as if he puts aside his reason for his “heart.” In the book, he did not. It was not him so much compromising his goodness for relativism as that he saw that justice would not have been done any other way. Rachett had found justice by a twelve-person jury of his peers. This idea was not even brought up in the movie, making it more about emotions than logic.
My biggest complaint about this movie was that Hollywood’s usual obsessions permeated what would have otherwise been a great film. What I mean by this is their employment of forced action and social engineering. Let me explain.
This was originally a cozy mystery, not a thriller of any kind. And yet the creators added several action scenes that made no sense other than to add action. As I mentioned before, the scene with Doctor Arbuthnot shooting at Poirot to protect Mary. There was also the chase under the bridge between Poirot and MacQueen. It seemed like the director was trying to turn the cozy, methodical mystery into a thriller or action movie. It just did not make sense for the rest of the movie.
My second point is about social engineering, perhaps a more controversial topic than anything else I have talked about in this essay. If you don’t know what this word means, it refers to the push of certain beliefs on a large scale, whether from government or media. One example in this movie would be the emphasis on relativism and emotion, which is certainly an idea pushed in most movies. I will give another example in this movie.
The actor for Dr. Arbuthnot was black performer Leslie Odom Jr. (a brilliant actor, by the way, who I’m familiar with from the Broadway musical Hamilton—he played Aaron Burr). I mention his race not because I really cared what race any of the actors are; I just hated that they made such a big deal about it. In the book, all the characters were of European descent. Thus, there were no themes whatsoever of racial tensions. And yet, Hollywood being Hollywood, they had to fill this movie with racism. Now only did it add nothing to the plot, it made it clear that the creators were more interested in filling the movie with their racial representation that Hollywood is pushing. Again, I wouldn’t have mind if more of the characters were black, Asian, Hispanic, or any other race. I just hated that the movie made such a big deal of it. It added nothing to the film and just detracted from the main mystery.
On a lighter topic, the Death on the Nile Easter Egg at the ending was bullshit (forgive my language). At the end of the movie, a man comes up to Poirot to announce that there is a murder on the Nile in Egypt that he must solve. In the books, Poirot did not go traveling around the world to solve cases. Must of his cases were set in England, so it makes no sense for him to be called across the world to solve a case which would have been cold by the time he reached there. Also, in Death on the Nile, Poirot went on the Nile cruise before the murder was committed, not to solve it. That Easter Egg was ridiculous and made no sense.
My final conclusion is that this is a beautiful film, but not a good film. If you watch it just for the clothing, scenes, and acting, I would recommend it. But if you want a meaningful adaptation or just a fun, well-plotted movie, don’t bother.
If you want a good Murder on the Orient Express, watch the one starring David Suchet from 2010. While not perfect, it is ten times better than this adaptation. Even the 1974 one starring Albert Finney was better (and Albert Finney looks nothing like the Poirot in the book).
If you’ve seen the movie, did you enjoy it? If not, are you planning to see it? Also, I’m curious what you think of it if you’ve read the book as well? Let me know down in the comments, make sure to follow my blog for more reviews, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,