A Great Train Ride into Adventure in “Murder on the Orient Express”

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Murder on the Orient Express Poster ImageSaturday I ventured out of my home to my first visit to a movie theater in five years. I don’t usually go to movies because my migraines generally make the theater experience painful, but as FangirlNation’s resident Agatha Christie expert, I felt inspired to go see the new Murder on the Orient Express.

For the most part, the plot of the movie Murder on the Orient Express follows that of the book, with a few shiftings around of characters. It begins when Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branaugh, who also direct the film, arrives in Istanbul after preventing a religious riot in Jerusalem. An urgent message about a case in London sends Poirot home on the Orient Express. On the second night strange noises keep alarming Poirot. Eventually, the train comes to a screeching halt after hitting a snow drift that sends the train off the tracks for several days, leaving them stuck. Everyone gets up, but when Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi), the valet of one creepy man, Ratchet (played effectively by a sinister-looking Johnny Depp) goes to bring him breakfast he finds Ratchet dead. Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr), a passenger on the train, says he was killed with multiple stab wounds. Poirot is left to have to investigate the murder, so when the train gets free, they can just present the completed case to the authorities at the next stop.

The cast was packed full of big name stars, in addition to the aforementioned actors. Judi Dench played an effective Russian Princess Dragomiroff. Michelle Pfeiffer performed a sexy, glamorous Mrs. Hubbard, who was much lower class and sillier in the book than the movie. But those who have never read the book will likely enjoy her performance. One curious change from the book involved the elimination of the Swedish missionary, the role that won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar in the 1974 version of the movie. Instead, they replaced her with Penelope Cruz playing the Spanish Pilar Estravados, a character from Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Daisy Ridley plays the role of the governess Mary Debenham, who was a minor character in the book but a fairly major one in the movie, a role which she plays powerfully. The cast list runs so long that I won’t try to reproduce it all here.

One thing that thoroughly impressed me about  Murder on the Orient Express was the cinematography. The stunning landscapes of the travels kept me riveted. But the scenes in the glamorous train really held my fascination. We often forget that the Orient Express was the fanciest, most glamorous train in the world at the time. But the depictions in the movie impressed me a lot. The views shown through the glass come creatively with appropriate reflections and double and triple images through the glass. I liked the overhead angle of the shot as Poirot tries to get into and then enters Ratchett’s room. It gives a creative view and the perfect image of the body covered with twelve stab wounds.

So do I recommend going to see Murder on the Orient Express? Yes! Those who have never read the book will revel in the drama and the great conclusion. Those who know the book well will have some disappointment in the portrayal of Poirot, such as his always looking at a photo of a woman labeled Katherine whom he addresses as mi amor, his love. And the messy caterpillar on Poirot’s face in the guise of a mustache does not fit in with Poirot’s obsession over neatness. Further, Poirot never gets involved in physical altercations in the books, adding additional differences from the character. But my greatest disappointment came in the ending, something I won’t discuss here for fear of giving away the solution. However, the acting is excellent and the images well created. In the middle of the movie, my friend commented how impressed she was by Branaugh’s portrayal of Poirot. It wasn’t until the end that he strays from Poirot’s book nature. I think all will appreciate the movie, while those unfamiliar with the book will certainly delight in the details of the movie.

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