A murder? On the Orient Express?!
First off, my history with this book: it is one I've read well more than 20 times (it's a frequent plane favorite/comfort food, along with The Hobbit and a couple of Shakespeare plays), I know it virtually backwards to forwards, so keep that in mind as you read.
While watching it, I definitely found myself sucked into it, even though wishing it would slow down a little more, that like its protagonist it would sit back and think. The surface is exquisite. Haris Zambarloukos is not a cinematographer whose work I was familiar with before this, but I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for him in the future. The long shot where Poirot enters the train w/ Mrs. Hubbard trailing/flirting, the marvelous high angle for the discovery of the body, the gorgeous composition over all, the way he's able to keep so many suspects lurking in the frames (the mirrored shots when Poirot announces the murder has taken place are on-the-nose but lovely) - he really nails it. Similarly, costumes and production design are superb.
The cast all acquits themselves well - even Gad and Depp do what the film asks them to do. Branagh's Poirot is definitely distinct from Finney and Suchet, but he still felt like Poirot IMO. Branagh's not afraid to be silly (his high-pitched giggling at his Dickens book, his insistence on perfect eggs), but still captures Poirot's intelligence and absolute disgust with anything out of place - including, of course, crime. Unfortunately, the sub-two-hour running time doesn't allow the suspects enough time to be fully fleshed out. Lucy Boynton and Manuel Garcia-Rufio, for instance, are clearly good matches for their role, but they don't really get enough screentime to sink their teeth into - same with (more egregiously) Olivia Colman and Judi Dench (the "I don't know whether to be sorry or glad" scene w/ Dragomiroff is definitely missed).
Pfeiffer is definitely the standout of the supporting cast, but I'd say Ridley, Dafoe, Jacobi, and Odom all managed to make good impressions. Pfeiffer, though, is the one who really gets a lot of meat to dig into, and she does it with relish. One of the few pleasures of 2017 is the movies rediscovering what a great screen presence she is, and she ably handles all the weight the film puts on her. Ridley and Odom really needed about five more minutes to sell their relationship/characters, but Ridley is appropriately charming and steely, and Odom lovestruck and determined (it's a surprise how little he gets to do, though, given how prominent both the characters who are combined into Doctor Arbuthnot are in the book). Dafoe and Jacobi are old pros, and they know how to have fun with little time (Dafoe especially).
So now, the script. As you can probably guess from the shortened run time, it... omits a few things. So let's delve into some spoilers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
IMO, the film's biggest problem is that it omits any reference to "Trial By Jury". But that's the underlying principle of the whole elegant solution to the mystery and, really, the rationale by which Poirot lets them all go at the end (the film comes to a slightly different reason he lets them go - more along the lines of the Suchet version). But it's not just that "they all did it," it's that *twelve* of them did it. They appointed themselves judge, jury, and executioner. Ratchett wasn't just stabbed a lot, he was stabbed twelve times. It's not murder, it's "justice". And it still is "justice" in this film, he just decides it's justice for more emotive reasons.
The other thing that bothered me was that Mrs. Hubbard said she did all the planning for it. Obviously, one can't necessarily take her at her word, but that also undermines the elegance of it - it's not just that they all stabbed him, it's that they all had their part to play in planning it and entrapping Ratchett onto the train. Both of these were probably omissions for length, but they do undermine the solution. In my opinion.
Basically, the film's biggest problem is that it's too damn short and therefore doesn't have time to breathe and develop (Poirot, for instance, makes the realization about a certain character's backstory almost immediately, rather than thinking it through and coming to the conclusion more naturally). A twenty-to-thirty-minute-longer version of this film that's a touch more faithful is probably a masterpiece. As it stands, it was an enjoyable watch. but still a bit of a missed opportunity. Would definitely love to see this type of all-star murder mystery come back. If nothing else, this shows there's definitely juice in that genre.
Oh, and the Death on the Nile shout-out is deeply silly, but I still chuckled.
Edited by Dent6084 - 11/9/17 at 10:20pm