You may have heard of Kenneth Branagh’s new movie Murder on the Orient Express, a reboot of the ‘70s black and white film based off Agatha Christie’s mystery novel. Having seen the 1974 movie but never read the book, I decided to read Murder on the Orient Express before seeing the new adaption on the big screen. Released on November 10 and grossing at 202 million box office worldwide, the movie received mixed reviews from both the audience and movie review critics alike.
Personally, I wouldn’t have seen the movie for the sake of the story as much as I did go see it for the sake of the time era, the accents, the actors, and the cinematography. Glenn Kenny in his review of the film in The New York Times said “Even more than 40 years after Sidney Lumet’s film I had presumed that the ending was so well-known that there would be little point in a remake.” Surely the remake was done for reasons other than the story alone, perhaps for the idea of pleasing Agatha Christie fans who knew the story well, but wanted to see a new, cleaner version of it, not unlike the fans of the original Disney animation Beauty and the Beast getting to see favorite actors play the reboot of the well known fairytale earlier this year.
Having listened to an audiobook of Murder on the Orient Express about a month before the new movie came out, I was expecting to know the story better this time around with the book fresh in my mind. Yet the plot in the movie was much harder to follow than the book itself—even the story in the 1974 version was, as I remembered, much clearer. Of course, there were things that this movie paid attention to that the older movie and the original story from the book didn’t include, such as the setting and background in the beginning of the movie during the introduction of the detective himself, Hercule Poirot, a character wonderfully portrayed by Kenneth Branagh. During the solving of the crime, names and occurrences were harder to keep track of even in the movie, something I thought surely wouldn’t happen, as I am a visual learner.
The information pacing flowed better in the book than it did in the movie. The background of the Armstrong case was clearer and made more sense in the book, which was a decent length, compared to the movie. There was so much material in the book that the movie was trying to cover, and the movie simply couldn’t afford more time to take in the information at the cost of suspense and steady story flow. Another major difference between the movie and the book was the emotional feel. In order to make the movie interesting, emotions and suspense were heightened. In order to do so, the emotions of the characters had to be aroused. There had to be at least a little bit of action, something I had expected going into the theater. Flashbacks to the the murder of Susan Armstrong in how each suspect was tied to the incident gave the audience a sense of horror and sadness and more empathy with each suspect in the movie, and I enjoyed that aspect of it. This was something that the book lacked and it was an addition that I thought was well done. Agatha Christie, being a British author, did not incorporate the sensationalism and sentiment into her story that we Americans look for; it is dry, providing facts and information, with plenty of room for character development. The movie, however, was made with the realization that for the audience to truly invest in the plot and characters, there had to be emotional connections.
But why was the ending of the movie different from the book? Surely not only to play on emotions. The director and screenwriter produced the movie, knowing full well that everyone who would be seeing the movie most likely knew how the story ended—with all the suspects being in on the murder. There’s no element of surprise if the ending of the movie is exactly the same as the age-old classic we all know about. So, though the movie ended with each of the suspects being the murderer, a few aspects were changed up. (And here is where the real spoilers start, so proceed with caution.) Rather than simply concluding that all the suspects were in on the case, Poirot has all them all line up facing him, commanding someone to speak up for their actions. Finally, the American woman admits that she was the one who led them all to do it and that she should be the one to blame. This never happened in the book, and it was certainly surprising, as this character seemed to be the least likely to make such a claim. This, however, was one of the main things I loved about the ending, and as it was explained, it did make a lot of sense. It broke the stereotype of her character and made for a strong, dramatic, and even bittersweet conclusion. I think the movie took the story and made it more real; true, it was slightly confusing, even for me who read the book shortly before seeing the movie, but the characters were real, the story was real, and the emotions, suspense, and drama of the mystery was well done.
I also enjoyed the cinematography. Angles from above seemed to be a favorite stylistic approach. As far as the acting, it was brilliant. Branagh rocked it as Poirot, and his character was much more fun and believable, and even surprising at times. There were quite a few actors I was already familiar with, and it was fun to see them all in one movie in the Victorian era. I loved everything about the setting, the style, and the era the movie takes place in. What was portrayed in the book so subtly was really brought to life on the big screen.
How would you compare the new movie with the old one? Do you prefer the storytelling style in the book or the movie reboot? Thoughts and opinions are encouraged! Don’t forget to subscribe and share the post on social media. Thanks for reading!
I'm a Christian writer of science fiction and fantasy. I'm also a book dragon, who consumes large amounts of tea and black licorice. Also aiming to publish a book and take over a couple planets while I'm at it.