Let me preface this by pointing out two things about myself. Firstly, I am the kind of person who always reads the book before watching the movie. Secondly, I think Johnny Depp is one of the best modern-day actors out there (though I think I’d be hard-pressed to find someone to deny his talent). And, equipped with that knowledge, I now present to you the two most troubling facts about my experience with Murder on the Orient Express.
Firstly, if a book is a classic and a bestseller, why change the plot line? There are glaring differences in the book and the movie that I couldn’t reconcile, all in the name of adding a touch of violence and drama. In the beginning of the movie, Count Andrenyi exhibits a rather theatrical violent outburst, twirling to kick people and elegantly punching others, over a photograph. No such violence happens in the movie. The protagonist Poirot’s interactions with the Andrenyi’s late in the film is also changed, in an attempt to make a more dramatic introduction of another character’s true (yet still altered from the book) identity. The book’s Colonel Arbuthnot and Dr. Constantine are combined to make the film’s Doctor Arbuthnot, a combination I found confusing and nonsensical.
Most alarmingly, the ending is changed almost entirely. A person who is exonerated in the book is not exonerated in the film, and a much more dramatic, Hollywood ending entails. The only change to the end that I can appreciate is the explanation of the scheme, and how each detail was worked out. The book explains who and why, but not how. But, the rest is an absolute bungling of the book’s ending.
The acting, though, is a different story. While I was not appalled by any one character, I didn’t really understand why Kenneth Branagh was appointed to play Hercule Poirot. Branagh also directed the film, but Johnny Depp was cast as the murdered man, and no longer seen about halfway through the movie. While Depp did an incredible job playing a dirty art dealer, I felt his acting chops make him more than competent to play Poirot. He is no stranger to any accent, and the oddities of any character. The film definitely depicts Poirot as a peculiar fellow (an attempt to add humour that was lost on me), and when I learned that Depp wouldn’t be the lead I was shocked. Maybe it’s because of his recent less-than-positive media attention involving his ex, Amber Heard, but I think that wasting his talent in a supporting role that kills him before the real story unfolds is a crime.
Penelope Cruz’s character is originally Swedish in the novel (Greta Ohlsson is her name), Antonio Foscarelli becomes Marquez and Arbuthnot becomes a black man with a backstory of triumph and success (this backstory is almost historically required to place him in a first class train car in a time of segregation in America). While I understand the need to diversify Agatha Christie’s originally all-white cast of suspects, I found this confusing to the person who read the book first.
While I would hardly say the movie was bad (though I also wouldn’t classify it as stellar), I think that one must appreciate the book and the movie as two separate entities to enjoy each. Those who haven’t read the book will almost certainly enjoy the movie (to a certain extent, at least) and it’s several twists, and those who have read the book (myself included) will likely just be happy to see Agatha Christie’s genius kept somewhat alive, no matter how altered it may be.