I love a good “whodunit” story, and “Murder on the Orient Express” might just be the most well known. After its original publication in 1934, the novel was adapted as a film in 1974, a radio play in 1992, twice for television — once in 2001 and again in 2010 — and now Agatha Christie’s story has found its way back to the big screen in 2017.
When a source material has been adapted this many times, one is forced to ask many questions. Why does this need another adaptation? What is going to be different? How will it be adapted to keep modern audiences interested? And above all, if everyone knows “whodunit?” then how will you keep audiences in suspense over the course of the film?
Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in the film, giving us the best version of Christie’s character Hercule Poirot that we have seen on screen. Branagh is perfectly eccentric, adequately adamant, and wonderfully quirky. He tried to answer all of those pressing questions in his adaptation. He did well, for the most part. It is a good adaptation for modern audiences while staying true to the source material.
Is this adaptation particularly necessary? No, probably not. But is it good? Yes. I found the film did a very good job of keeping me in suspense, even though I knew the third-act twist that has had readers and audiences marvelling for years.
Normally, I stay away from other reviews until I have completed mine. But upon seeing that “Murder on the Orient Express” only scored a 53 on Metacritic, I had to check out what my esteemed colleagues — if I can even call them that — had to say.
I found that most critic reviews were positive, or at least indicated that the film is enjoyable. Three publications, the New York Post and the Playlist, and the Wall Street Journal published scathing reviews, calling Branagh’s adaptation bland and uninspired. The Post’s review does not discuss the film at all, rather its writer tries to paint a “whodunit” of his own, trying to figure out which executive killed this classic. I cannot even tell if the reviewer from the Playlist was even watching the same film. Most of his comments seem unfounded. And I have no idea what the columnist from the Wall Street Journal thought, because I do not have the money to subscribe to their diatribe.
I cannot help but think that these three reviewers were not paying attention, seeing as they railed on Branagh’s adaptation for being an “unceremonious dud” and “cold and limp,” when in fact the only thing that was cold was the atmosphere of the film and the only dud to be found is in their artificially elaborate prose. I challenge you — Drew Taylor, Johnny Oleksinski, and Joe Morgenstern — come down off your high horses and watch films with the rest of us. You have become so obsessed with sounding intelligent that you have forgotten how to simply enjoy a film.
Is this the best possible adaptation? Certainly not. It could use a bit more levity. Many of the characters should have gotten more screen time. Branagh comes across as a bit self-obsessed. But it is a good, tense version of a thrilling classical mystery that comes nowhere close to deserving the scores you three gave it. Now dismount and pay attention.