Advertised by the media and on movie posters as “Johnny Depp’s next big movie,” the film “Murder on the Orient Express” was released on Friday, Nov. 10th. But to the dismay of “Edward Scissorhands” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” fans, Depp is killed, stabbed twelve times in the chest in his sleep, twenty minutes into the film.
Even without the movie’s biggest name, “Murder on the Orient Express” still promises its fair share of star power.
Based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, the film introduces famous detective Hercule Poirot (a mustachioed Kenneth Branagh, who also produced and the directed the film), whose train ride through Europe is interrupted by two things: an avalanche and the murder of passenger Samuel Ratchett (Depp).
What follows is a classic who-dunnit featuring an ensemble cast of celebrities. Was it Daisy Ridley, famous for portraying Rey in the new “Star Wars” trilogy? How about Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in “Frozen”? Or could it perhaps have been one of the many Oscar nominees in the film—such as Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench or Michelle Pfeiffer?
Even with a cast of big names, the shining performance in “Orient Express” comes from relative newcomer Tom Bateman, who portrays self-described “horrible person” Bouc, the train’s director. Bouc adds humor and sass to the otherwise serious murder mystery. Most of the other actors, however, simply aren’t delivering the performances that they became so well known for.
The film is packed with bad British and French accents and overdramatic scenes. While there are some standouts (such as Willem Dafoe’s Gerhard and Josh Gad’s Hector MacQueen), many of them seem as if they don’t care a lot about the movie. Which is a shame, because the movie’s plot is so enjoyable.
The mystery that Christie’s novel (originally published in 1934), and later the film, provided leaves you on the edge of your seat. The surprise ending left everyone in the movie theater in shock and surprised. Fans of murder mysteries such as “Sherlock Holmes” will thoroughly enjoy this traditional take on a Doyle-era tale—it is even set in a similar time period.
Characters in the film are adorned in the traditional short haircuts and fancy suits of the 1930s, and even the most basic detail of the film—the fact that the characters are riding a steam train—is reminiscent of the era. These elements provide the audience with a sense of nostalgia. That is one of the film’s selling points. It seems that viewers are meant to find themselves longing for a simpler time, wanting to ride steam trains and wear those fancy clothes.
“Murder on the Orient Express” has found creative ways to simultaneously keep the film nostalgic while incorporating modern themes. The film provides an interesting commentary on the racial divides and discrimination of the era. Dr. Arbuthnot (“Hamilton’s’ Leslie Odom Jr.), a black man, is in love with Mary Debenham (Ridley), a white woman. The struggle of balancing their feelings for each other while seeming to abide by the laws and standards of the 1930s makes for a compelling subplot in the film. This storyline, not present in the original story, was added into this adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Additionally, certain characters, such as Penelope Cruz’s Pilar Estravados (called Greta Ohlsson in the novel) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Biniamino Marquez (formerly Antonio Foscarelli), had their names changed in order to cast more actors and actresses of color.
In short, fans of the classic murder mystery archetype would enjoy “Murder on the Orient Express.” Fans of history, the past or even trains would enjoy “Murder on the Orient Express.” However, fans of the many actors and actresses involved in the production should steer clear. Those expecting another action-packed fantasy Depp flick, or used to the talent of one of the many award-winning performers in the film, would be better off picking another movie. However, for those who enjoy a good mystery (or a good moustache), it may be time to head over to the nearest movie theater and take a trip on the Orient Express.
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