Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


If you haven’t seen the 1974 version of this classic Agatha Christie story, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a really good movie. And it’s not a bad movie, not by any means. What it is, is an okay movie. If you have seen the 1974 movie, this one will make you wonder “Why the hell did Kenneth Branagh think it was a good idea to re-make a movie that was damn near perfect?” Because today’s CGI effects can place the train on a precipitous bridge, snowbound, or show it from a great distance as it threads its way through the passes of the Simplon route of the Orient Express? Such trickery does not enhance the story even a tiny bit. In the 1974 version the train just sits there, and all the action happens in the Calais Coach and the dining car, we never leave it, where the great Belgian (not French!) detective Hercule Poirot pits his little gray cells against a huge and clever deception. Which is pure Christie, and perfect. Branagh felt he had to open it up. Wrong. Bad idea.

Okay. Good points: I’ve never read the book, but it seems that both versions are pretty accurate. Each writer changed a few details that didn’t affect the story much, and each writer chose different things to change. The performances are good, not brilliant. The thing looks great … but so did the original. And apparently the famous mustaches, described as “the most magnificent in Europe” fit more closely here to Christie’s vision of them. She didn’t like Albert Finney’s (and probably would have not liked David Suchet’s). Myself, I thought these huge handlebars were ghastly, like some small beast had crawled onto his lip and died. Albert Finney’s smaller, more prissy soup strainer made me happier.

What doesn’t work: Action! Must insert action into this cerebral story! Wrong! The only real “action” in the original is the murder itself, which happens off camera … and it works wonderfully. Here, we have an actual fistfight, a shooting, a chase along a railroad trestle. I observed it all sadly. As I did the horrible, melodramatic moment when Poirot, the contained, reserved, civilized little man slams a gun down on a table (where the suspects are posed like The Last Supper) and shouts at them to shoot him. Too much histrionics, Kenneth. Albert was able to get excited without getting angry.

Why go on? It is surely possible to enjoy this visual feast and to revel in the amazing luxury of first-class train travel in the 1920s or ‘30s. But you can get the same delight from the original, and get a much better production, to boot. Up to you, I guess, but I know which one I recommend.