Hercule Poirot was born when Christie was a nurse during the first World War, but in this case, it's probably around 1880, because he's a grayhead living in 1934 as the world's best detective. He says: "Only two people will ever know the killer: the lord, and Hercule Poirot." And he's now a sensation at solving mysteries that he's taken to Jerusalem to solve a theft, and is given such attention a farmboy has to sprint across the marketplace and crossways to bring him a fresh chicken egg. Spoiled much? He then goes away after completing the case as easily as putting on a tuxedo and hopes to go on vacation and travels The Orient Express on a last-minute pass. There's an Englishman named Ratchett who wants Poirot's help but he snarkily declines. Then the next night, Poirot overhears some chitter chatter, a red cape/gown run by when he peeks out and the next morning find 12 stab wounds through Ratchett and not much other than a partially burned note, a uniform button, a bloodstained handkerchief, and all the interviews required while the train is stuck from a prior avalanche.
In the current business of film, it's always a wise idea to include a cast such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe and a handful of others if you're aiming to make a paycheck. And even if we know these people as their actor faces instead of their names, since there isn't really enough time to digest each individual by who they are set to play, they don't phone in their performances. Pfeiffer is in my opinion the culprit that delivers the best of the performances, annoyed, grieving and scared at all the right moments. But is she the culprit? Critic rules. Can't tell ya.
And when you adapt a mystery novel into a movie, there are a few things to think about. One is the flow of information, because isn't it the biggest pleasure to be completely invested in the mystery? In all mystery books, readers can decide how to interpret the facts at their own pace, but in the movie, the filmmaker is the one to decide the pace. And everything happens pretty fast in Kenneth Branagh's depiction of the novel, that's for sure. When Poirot interrogates Ridley's character for the second time, he info-dumps all these terms expressively contradicting various statements and I bet no one else in the theatre was catching on.
As a result, the facts end up fading before you can catch them and you instead focus on the characters' reactions to certain dialogue to see if they might be surprised or ticked off by something. There have been films in the past like American Hustle that have gotten me confused and I've hated, so if it doesn't quite work as a thorough mystery, it works as a terrific guessing and maybe even betting game.
One of my favourite things about this adaptation is it has cinematic value I don't remember the novel having, with one or two chases and a colourful enough delivery making it fairly enjoyable to guess the culprit. It also certainly narrows down the main suspect list a little bit...until it doesn't anymore. But Branagh manages to keep the movie entertaining enough as the suspects look from one way to the next, and the mystery wraps up smoothly before it can get boring. I was afraid the movie would drag and it completely avoids that. The acting also adds to the emphasis of the certainly controversial and thought-provoking and even shivering-conducing conclusion I knew post-reading the book.
Though sometimes unnecessarily complicated even for people like me who know the story, Murder on the Orient Express is a well put-together adaptation that doesn't feel isolated considering most of the movie takes place on a claustrophobia-creating train.