Last year, Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” was one of my top 10 reads. After finally watching the movie, I feel like it would be remiss of me if I don’t post my opinions about the movie adaptation. Come to think of it, it’s only fitting that this would be my first book-to-movie adaptation review. To the friends who don’t know me well enough yet, you’re about to see where I stand regarding the age-old “book vs. movie” debate.
Having read some negative movie adaptation reviews from other fans of the book, I dreaded watching the movie and braced myself for disappointment. Later, I proved that I made the right decision. Because I was emotionally prepared, I did enjoy the movie despite the glaring changes. I’ll break this review down into two parts: what I liked and what I didn’t like about the “Murder on the Orient Express” movie adaptation.
I prefer to start with the bad things. Here are the points that I didn’t like:
- Sir Kenneth Branagh’s a brilliant actor, director, producer, and screen writer and I have great respect for him. However, I don’t think he’s the right actor to cast as Hercule Poirot. To be fair, if I didn’t know and like the book version of Poirot, I would have appreciated Kenneth Branagh’s different take on the character. The problem is, I did like the book version of Poirot. The movie version struck me as a caricature of the character. He was too funny, emotional, and passionate. (To the Potterheads out there who had issues with Dumbledore yelling “DID YOU PUT YOUR NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE?!” at Harry in the movie adaptation, Kenneth Branagh did something similar as Poirot. Several times.) As for the humor, even though I was entertained to see Poirot laughing to himself while reading a book in bed (because he was so relatable at the time), the fact remains that I felt like I was watching a different character. Since Poirot’s the main character in the book and the movie, the jarring differences between book Poirot and movie Poirot made the movie come across more as another mystery drama film than a movie adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express”.
- In terms of the plot and the characterization of the supporting characters, the writer also deviated too far from canon. Here are some examples:
- Mary Debenham became a bit of a Poirot fangirl in the movie. She also wasn’t as aloof and guarded as book Mary.
- Steve MacQueen was too emotionally unstable in the movie.
- Dr. Arbuthnot actually attacked Hercule Poirot to convince him that he’s the killer. I was so close to screaming in outrage while watching that scene. Why in heaven’s name did this scene have to be added? I know that Leslie Odom Jr. played Burr in “Hamilton”, but come on, this is a different character and story!
- Mrs. Hubbard had herself stabbed by Arbuthnot to convince Poirot that there’s only one killer. As if that wasn’t over-the-top already, she also tried to kill herself after the grand reveal. At this point, I wanted to throw something against the wall. Preferably the movie script. I hated these unnecessary additions. The book’s exciting enough already!
- Don’t even get me started on Count and Countess Andrenyi. The way they were portrayed…Let’s just say it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they left a Gothic vampire romance production to hop aboard the Orient Express.
- Instead of those unnecessary changes, I wish that the screenwriters had just focused on the actual backstories of the passengers. So much wasted potential. Why did they have to mess with excellent source material?
Now that I’m done ranting, I’ll proceed to the points that I did like:
- The movie was a visual feast. I loved the beautiful winter scenery and the elegant interiors of the Orient Express. I found myself wanting to be a passenger, with or without a murder case. “Oh, wow, it would be fun to get stranded on a train this gorgeous…Oh, there’s a murder investigation? Sign me up.”
- Dame Judi Dench was perfection as Princess Dragomiroff. Too bad we didn’t see enough of her.
- The following actors also did a good job portraying their characters: Olivia Colman as Hildegarde Schmidt, Penélope Cruz as Pilar Estravados, Derek Jacobi as Edward Henry Masterman, Marwan Kenzari as Pierre Michel. Again, too bad we didn’t see enough of them.
- I thought that the flashbacks involving the Armstrong family and the group murder of Cassetti were well-done. Those scenes were atmospheric, but not overly dramatic.
To conclude, I did enjoy the movie, but it’s a shallow type of enjoyment in the sense that it wasn’t a useless way to spend my time. Unfortunately, I have to agree with the disappointed fans: it was NOT a good and faithful adaptation. I might recommend it to the people who haven’t read the book – even to the people who have read the book but didn’t love it as much as I did. Those people might appreciate the movie so much more. (Honestly, I’ll be happy for them.) As for the book fans like me, I would advise you to stay away from this 2017 remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” unless you’re willing to forget the things you loved about most of the book’s characters.