I just love a good “whodunit.” If you do as well, then climb aboard the Orient Express –er, make that Murder on the Orient Express. If you aren’t that into murder-mysteries but tend to enjoy movies that are jam-packed with stars, then you’ve still got a reason to see this one.
Based on the beloved 1934 Agatha Christie novel — which was adapted into a critically acclaimed movie in 1974 that resulted in Ingrid Bergman winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress — the story revolves around, you guessed it, a murder on the Orient Express passenger train in Europe.
The action takes place in the 1930s, where we are introduced to the world’s best and most awesomely mustachioed detective, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film), at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There, he proves his skills by publicly and dramatically exposing a thief. He also proves his obsession with details and perfection — demanding same-sized eggs cooked precisely to his specifications, and requesting that other men adjust their ties as he cannot abide asymmetry. After stepping in manure with one foot, he purposely steps in it with his other foot to find “balance.” Yep, it’s like that.
So even if you’ve never read any of Christie’s Poirot-centered novels, you’ll quickly come to understand that this guy doesn’t miss a thing, nor does he suffer fools lightly. His work now requires that he get to back to the UK, and a friend offers up a seat on the Orient Express to Paris.
Once the train departs, a shady businessman named Ratchett (Johnny Depp) confides in Poirot that he has swindled several customers and fears for his life. He asks for the detective’s help, but Poirot refuses on ethical grounds and delivers one of the best one-liners in the film to boot: “I don’t like your face.”
Shortly after, Ratchett is indeed stabbed to death in the middle of the night in his cabin. To make matters worse, the train grinds to a halt on a bridge after an avalanche hits and everyone is stuck on the side of a mountain. Now Poirot must find and expose the killer before anyone else gets hurt.
The list of suspects is long and varied, from gold-diggers (Michelle Pfeiffer), governesses (Daisy Ridley), doctors (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.) and nurses (Penélope Cruz), to princesses (Judi Dench), professors (Willem Dafoe) and Ratchett’s business associates (Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi). The twists and turns keep coming, and while I may have been more entertained than someone who already knows what happens (I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read the source material or seen the original film), I still have to believe that even those who do know the full story will appreciate this remake’s A-list cast, gorgeous period details and creative camera angles (there are several shots from outside of the train or overhead).
The end of the film sets things up for a sequel, and I for one would welcome another tagalong with Detective Poirot.