Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express



Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Leslie Odorm, Jr., Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeifer


Murder on the Orient Express is based on one of Agatha Christie’s most popular detective novels. Even though a faithful adaptation, director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have altered some of its characteristics to create a visually pleasing experience (which aims to make up for an 80-year-old plot twist). 

Set in the 1930s, the film begins with famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot at the start of his planned holiday. The film makes a point of emphasising Poirot’s OCD (considerably more than previous Christie adaptations). After arriving in Istanbul, he receives a letter requiring his presence London immediately. An acquaintance who happens to be the director of the Orient Express finds him a spot on the train bound for France. From here on, the mystery of the lavishing Orient Express begins. There are 12 passengers and “Everyone is a suspect.”

The first detail that Kenneth Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos brought to this version of Murder on the Orient Express is the scenery. Their additional touches on the plot and the historical scenic portrayal of the cities are magnificent. The way they build atmosphere is striking, like when Poirot is in Istanbul and we see the steam of the hot Turkish bread. It brings an extra tactile element to the film by using visual elements to provoke all five senses. The shots and editing are done in such a dynamic way that it holds your full attention until the end. The colours are another rich element of the cinematography. Before Poirot hops on the Orient Express, the cinematographer keeps the shots warm and interesting, and then the grow cold and blue as the train goes through the snow. Besides these cinematic effects, Branagh goes back to his Shakespeare methods of the 90s by shooting the film with 65mm cameras (the same cameras used for Dunkirk). This gives the film ambience and a sharp look, which is aided by the fact that they shot on location, virtually inviting the audience on a time-travelling train. 

The take on Poirot’s OCD is interesting, as it portrays him as both suffering from it and exploiting it to excel in his detective work. This comes into focus in the contrast between him needing a vacation from his work and rejecting any upcoming cases and the necessity of solving the murder on this isolated train. The mystery calls his name and compels him to solve this crime. In film language, this is beautifully portrayed in the way the music and the use of close-ups intertwine to follow his thought process.

It’s an overall very well-made film with stunning and memorable visual elements, and the cast alone guarantees a well above average standard of performances, but it ultimately brings nothing new to the story for Agatha Christie readers and fans of previous film adaptations.

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Originally from Istanbul/Turkey but lives in Groningen, Netherlands. Studies English Language and Culture at Groningen University. Interested in poetry, writing, art, films, and medieval period.