A good movie with a great mustache

'Murder on the Orient Express' captivates despite critics' reviews

By Ysabela Golden | 12/4/17 1:40am


I’m not a die-hard fan of the murder-mystery genre. Prior to my viewing of "Murder on the Orient Express" in theaters, the entirety of my experience with its original creator (and bestselling mystery author of all time), Agatha Christie, was a "Doctor Who" episode in which her telepathic link with a drowning alien wasp gives her amnesia. 

But despite the 2017 movie presumably being targeted to a demographic whose first notion of Christie’s work is not “oh, that’s from the space-bug lady,” I ended up enjoying it immensely. Apparently I’m not alone in my assessment: "Murder on the Orient Express" is projected to quadruple its budget in ticket sales before it leaves theaters, and public reception has been enough that Fox has already greenlit a sequel, "Death on the Nile." 

But despite the positive reaction to the film from audiences, critics have been raking it over the coals since the premiere. This seems surprising considering the acting talent (Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kenneth Branagh, etc.) the movie had boasted about in every trailer and piece of promotional material that was thrown at the general public, not to mention the gorgeous set, costuming and cinematography you get from a $55 million budget put to outstanding effect. Criticisms of the movie abound, however, in two major flavors: It's either not faithful enough to the book to appeal to fans of the original or too faithful to the trappings of the genre to appeal to a modern audience.

One of arguments for the former is the way the movie handles its main character, Hercule “I am probably the greatest detective in the world” Poirot. While apparently less so in the book, 2017 movie Poirot is endearing in his eccentricities, his candidness and his obsessive-compulsive tendencies offset by his gentlemanly attitude. As much as I and the rest of the world enjoyed the social disaster that was BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, I’ll admit I enjoyed watching a detective who could observe a trainful of rumpled collars and unpolished wedding rings without immediately airing everyone’s dirty laundry. Despite a somewhat slow introduction to his character in the beginning of the movie, it’s hard not to be attached to Poirot (and his honestly quite impressive mustache) by the time he sets foot on the train. 

The rest of the cast is similarly intriguing, though one of my only problems with the film is that it doesn’t give all of them the focus you would expect from their importance to the story. As a result, there’s a sense that while the writers couldn’t leave out any characters from the book, neither could they take the time to develop them as much as they could be in a 256-page novel.

Developing the titular murder, however, is something the movie spends a lot of time on. It takes care to give the viewer enough clues that they can piece the puzzle together alongside Poirot, evidently to a greater extent than the book did. The iconic ending that was led up to, however, was a turnoff for those who expected more of a gritty crime drama than Christie’s significantly less realistic style. The internal logic of a murder-mystery novel probably has more in common with a Batman comic than an episode of "CSI" (if Batman had a handlebar mustache and also did actual detective work instead of plugging soil samples into the Batcomputer)

So, if you don’t mind a lack of realism in your fancy train-murder movies, and you’re not a hard-core Agatha Christie fan who would rather avoid witnessing alterations to her work, "Murder on the Orient Express" is a great exploration of the classic story for a modern, mainstream audience. Once the plot begins, it’s a nonstop ride to a wild finish that, if you’re anything like me, will leave you senselessly jabbing your finger at the screen while hissing curses under your breath until the credits start rolling over.

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