To apply an overused turn of phrase, good mystery stories are typically not about the destination, but rather the journey. Despite this, the ending should still be a satisfying reveal, or else the journey would’ve been for nothing. Unfortunately based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express could’ve been an okay film, had it not managed to fumble its way to a disappointing ending.
I had not originally planned to watch this film, but I was with good company at the time, and got roped into this situation, so I decided it was best to just go with the flow and see what this movie had to offer. The film’s protagonist, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), is similarly roped into this murder-mystery when he had intended to take a little vacation from being ‘probably the greatest detective in the world’. When passenger and conman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is discovered dead in his cabin, a derailed train becomes the setting of a murder-mystery whose solution is so shocking it changes the way Poirot sees his line of work.
Though the ending supposedly changed the way Poirot views crime and justice as a detective, I couldn’t help but feel cheated. The solution to the crime felt like something I would’ve written in grade school rather than something that a world-class mystery writer would deliver. Perhaps I feel this way because there were too many characters for Poirot to interview and investigate for me to let proper suspicions sink in. Maybe I feel this way because once the mystery is solved, the film sees fit to try and fit in as much pretentious imagery and messaging as possible to try and make the mystery into some deep commentary on humanity and it just rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, there’s an interesting shot or two that’s sprinkled in among the otherwise dull picture, and I was glad that Ratchett, who I had thought would play the role of an obvious red herring, wound up being the unlikable victim in this story, but can I truly recommend a feature-length film for a few minute-long clips that you can watch online in a few months time? If only the ending wasn’t so silly, and the characters so underutilized, I could maybe recommend this movie as a one-time watch.
I have never read an Agatha Christie novel, nor have I watched any previous adaptations of this particular story, so I can’t tell you if this movie brings any new twists to this narrative, nor if it’s a completely faithful retelling. What I can say is that in watching this film in good company, I managed to enjoy myself through the tried and true tradition of riffing the film at every available chance. I can’t say I would remember much of this film at all had I not gone with proper companions. Every joke my friends and I cracked at the film’s expense only helped make this otherwise ordinary viewing experience a little more worthwhile, and that’s the only advice I can give to anyone who wants to watch this film: watch it with friends who won’t mind laughing at the film rather than with it. In essence, Murder on the Orient Express isn’t a particularly great or bad film, it’s simply a disappointment unless you know how to turn it into a worthwhile experience.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English, along with a Certificate in Exile Studies.