I had mixed feelings about Kenneth Brannagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2017), which Mr. Bookwyrm and I watched a few weeks ago. On the one hand, the cinematography is beautiful, and the actors’ performances range from good to excellent. On the other hand, the adaptation departs from the book in several small and one or two significant ways. Some of these I applaud, such as the casting of Leslie Odom as the doctor, but other changes didn’t work for me; I found them either gratuitous or out of character. Specifically, there is more violence (besides the murder) and more action in this adaption than in the book, which I felt was unnecessary. One character is shot, and there’s even a chase scene involving Poirot, which is completely out of character if you’ve read the Poirot books. While Brannagh’s accent was good, his mustache was over the top, and he doesn’t really nail Poirot’s mannerisms and body language the way David Suchet does. Brannagh portrays a bigger, much more physically active Poirot, not the dapper little man described by Christie. That said, his performance overall was pretty good, which is only to be expected from an actor of his talent. Other actors were also a pleasure to watch, particularly Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., and Willem Dafoe. Johnny Depp was also good as the very unpleasant Mr. Ratchett, whose death provides the movie (and book) with its title.
I give this production 3.5 stars. On the whole, I enjoyed it, but I was occasionally distracted or irritated when some scene or characterization didn’t fit my expectations. I know the book well, and have read it four or five times, which of course colors my sense of what makes a “good” adaptation.
Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted twice before, once with Albert Finney and once with David Suchet (the Poirot, in my opinion.) I’ve enjoyed both of those, though neither was perfect. Of them three, I’d recommend the Suchet adaptation as the most faithful to the book, and the Brannagh as the most visually gorgeous.
I haven’t read the book in years and don’t really remember it, but when I saw this movie, I wondered how Johnny Depp’s character didn’t recognize any of the other people on the train? Or maybe he did and I missed it?
Most of them were connected in some way to the Armstrong family, and the only one he would be likely to have seen in person was the maid, and perhaps the policeman during the trial. But I wondered that myself. In the book, as I recall, he doesn’t encounter that many of them up close, on the train.
Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer
Yes, this is one I will watch when it comes to cable. I have watched all the adaptations over the years. Great review Lark 🙂
Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer recently posted…A Merciful Death by Kendra Elliot
Thanks! I’m glad I didn’t see it in theaters, but it was worth watching once my library had a copy.
Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
I figure I’ll watch this at some point and I do like most of the casting – especially Depp. I’m not shocked that they added more violence and action because that seems to be the norm. I did find the casting of Brannagh surprising. I think he’s an amazing actor but he’s not exacting and particular Poirot. I wonder if I’d be as strongly biased if I’d never seen Suchet as Poirot who was perfection.
I totally agree with you about Suchet; I don’t think anyone will ever top his performance as Poirot. He was meticulous about getting it right, reading the books for details about the character. He would argue with the writers and directors if they wanted him to do something out of character. Brannagh both directed and starred in his version; he was originally just asked to direct, so I guess he really wanted to play the role. But I don’t think he’s well-suited to it. I had the same problem with Peter Ustinov, and in fact, Brannagh’s performance reminded me more of Ustinov than of any other Poirot.