I must start off this review by mentioning I've never read the Agatha Christie novel this film is based on, nor have I seen the 1974 film adaptation.

Going in blind like this, you might think I'd be completely swept away by the twists and turns of this unique murder mystery, and I was! However, I can't help but get the feeling that Murder on the Orient Express is a film I don't need to see again.

This film is directed and starred by Kenneth Branagh, who portrays the world-famous Hercule Poirot (pronounced uur-KEWL, he gets very testy when you compare him to Greek legend), a detective with a keen eye and a sharp brain for crime. It starts off in Jerusalem and then Istanbul, when Poirot learns he is needed immediately in London. He quickly hops aboard the titular Orient Express, and that's when the plot begins to flourish.

Once on the train, Murder on the Orient Express introduces us to our players, and what a group of players they are; I've never quite seen a film that better fits the definition of "ensemble cast", from Johnny Depp as the scummy Ratchet, to Penelope Cruz as missionary Pilar Estravados, to Michelle Pfeiffer as the flirtatious Caroline Hubbard.

Of course, not long into the journey, someone gets murdered, the train gets stuck in the snow, and it's up to detective Poirot and his ridiculous and fantastic mustache to solve the crime.

20th Century Fox via YouTube
20th Century Fox via YouTube

The mystery that unfolds is incredibly dense and gripping, keeping the audience guessing throughout who the killer is; However, I must say that if you've seen or read this story before, I wonder how much Murder on the Orient Express has to offer you. Looking back at the film once you know how the whole thing shakes out, it all makes sense, but would it be nearly as enjoyable if you know how it's going to end? I'm not so sure.

I have a few other gripes with this film as well. While the mystery was entertaining and engaging, I couldn't help but get annoyed at just how cliche and outlandish some of the investigatory leaps Poirot takes can be. I have some issues with how the culprit planned the crime as well, but both of these gripes aren't the fault of the film for staying true to the source material.

Some of the cinematographic choices made by Murder on the Orient Express irk me; either Branagh or the director of photography enjoys going back to the same few shots, and it can be tiresome. In one key scene, for example, we're stuck with an unbroken overhead shot for almost a minute, and such an odd decision takes you out of the scene itself.

In other places, however, the film is visually stunning. It has a fantastic sense of style, pulling you in to the world of luxury and intrigue you can only get on a first class, international train in the 1930's. Murder on the Orient Express also does a great job at keeping things interesting, despite being confined to one train for the majority of the movie.

20th Century Fox via YouTube
20th Century Fox via YouTube

This is helped by the fact that the acting from each and every one of our characters is outstanding. When you get this much star power in one vehicle (pun intended) you're bound to see good acting, even from those who don't have a prominent role. Standouts include Branagh in the leading role, as well as Michelle Pfeiffer's gripping performance.

However, whenever you get this many great actors in one place, some are bound to fall by the wayside; Some of the smaller players, while acted well, feel one dimensional because they don't have enough screen time. Willem Dafoe, for example, is one of my favorite actors of all time, and he does great here, but he has only two scenes where he can shine. The same goes for Dame Judi Dench, who really only gets one scene.

Despite all this, Murder on the Orient Express was an enjoyable and well made film. The question is though, will it be as enjoyable for those familiar with the story?

If you haven't seen the 1974 version, or haven't read the book, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Murder on the Orient Express. If you have, it's still worth checking out.

See the trailer below.

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