A few questions about the beautiful, ridiculous Murder on the Orient Express
Like: why does Johnny Depp's performance seem like it was based on an animatronic gangster at a 'Goodfellas'-themed pizzeria?
Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, this contains spoilers. More than spoilers. Double spoilers. Triple spoilers. I will project a 10x magnification of what normally qualify as spoilers onto the side of a barn wall for the whole town to see. This article is a dissection of the film in so much detail that Kenneth Branagh would politely ask me to chill out. Consider yourself politely declined, Sir K.
And so, if you really don’t want the ending of a story that came out in 1934 spoiled for you, stop reading now. As for the rest of you brave souls, some of whom have no doubt already bore two hours of egregious facial hair and whatever accent Johnny Depp was doing, welcome. Let’s figure this thing out together, shall we?
In case you’ve haven’t seen the movie, or seen the original movie, or read the book yet, here’s a quick plot summary: Hercule Poirot is a finicky Belgian detective with a truly astonishing mustache played by Branagh, who’s invited by his playboy friend Bouc aboard the luxurious Orient Express train so he can get to London, presumably to solve a crime. The rest of the first class cabin is basically occupied by the cast of Clue: a widow, a princess, a professor, an army man, a doctor, a governess, etc, etc. And then there’s Samuel Ratchett — Johnny Depp’s character — who gets murdered in the middle of the night by some violent stabbing. With the train stalled and derailed in a snowbank above a bridge, Poirot must see if he can figure out which of the archetypes played by a famous person is the murderer.
Here’s the big spoiler: they all did it! Murder on the Orient Express is the participation trophy murder. Everyone got a stab. You see, “Ratchett” is actually Lenfranco Cassetti, a man who kidnapped and murdered an American toddler named Daisy Armstrong. Her mother, who was pregnant at the time, miscarried and died due to complications, her father died by suicide, and Cassetti escaped justice. Turns out all of those seemingly disparate strangers on the train had something in common aside from being famous people: a connection to the Armstrong family. The widow was actually Daisy’s grandmother. The countess was her aunt. The doctor worked with her father. The car salesman was the family chauffeur. And as a fun reunion-slash-team building retreat, 12 of them coordinated getting onboard the same train so they could murder Cassetti and frame it on a mysterious man they’ll claim they heard sneaking aboard the train. Airtight, until by sheer coincidence, the world’s most famous detective happens to freebie into a last-minute ticket.
Poirot figures out the ridiculous and implausible plot, but realizing justice isn’t always clear-cut, he recommends that the police stick with the simple answer of an unknown assailant who snuck on and off the train. And Poirot is usually so rigid in everything he does! Character growth!
In truth, this movie is less about murder and more about famous people chewing (beautiful) scenery. This movie gives us some incredible gifts: Michelle Pfeiffer as a thirsty widow, Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom, Jr. in some great turtlenecks, a ballet-dancing Italian count. Branagh knows how to make a film look sweeping and epic, even if it takes place almost entirely within a train. (As an unrelated side note, the desserts they serve on said train look delicious.) This movie is fun, but not as fun as I wanted it to be. And its famously convoluted premise almost certainly means the viewer is going to leave the theater with a few questions. These are mine.
Does Hercule Poirot have any friends?
They kind of make it seem like Bouc is his friend, but you’d think if Poirot had anyone in his life who actually cared about him as a human being, someone would have taken him aside at some point and told him the elaborate mustache was ridiculous. It’s just distracting. It’s a whole thing. It’s like if you have a friend that just begins wearing a hat all the time. That mustache is the equivalent of showing up to brunch wearing a hat.
Why would a guilty person ever hire Hercule Poirot?
A couple of things are established in the film’s cute little “a rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar” cold open in Jerusalem: 1) Hercule Poirot is incredibly famous for being a great detective, 2) the head of police hired him, and 3) the guy who hired him is the one who actually stole the artifact. Why, oh why, would a guilty man ever hire an outside consultant to solve the crime, especially when the consultant is super well known for being preternaturally amazing at his job? Not only does it almost guarantee he’ll get caught, it also makes him look incompetent, like he can’t solve crime in his own jurisdiction on his own.
Why does Johnny Depp speak like a European who learned how to do an American accent from watching The Sopranos?
Johnny Depp was born in Kentucky, in the United States of America. Has it been so long since he didn’t play a British person that he thinks all Americans keep a small store of marbles tucked within their cheeks for special occasions? Was he making a creative choice that his sleazy art-dealer character was suffering from very specific paralysis of the lower lip? All in all, this performance would have been perfect for an animatronic gangster at a Goodfellas-themed pizzeria.
Why didn’t they do a quick once-over after the murder?
When Poirot examines Ratchett’s compartment, he finds a handkerchief embroidered with an H, a pipe cleaner, and a button from a conductor’s uniform. We learn later that the button was planted there to throw Poirot off the scent of the real murderer(s), to make him believe the story that someone disguised as a conductor snuck aboard the train and then disappeared. But if they were going to go through the trouble to plant fake evidence, why be so careless as to accidentally leave the handkerchief and pipe cleaner? How would those things even fall off one’s person? You’d think after you commit a murder, you give the room the same basic last-minute sweep as you would after leaving a motel.
Also, why did Judi Dench even have her handkerchief with her? She was in her pajamas. Do fancy people really carry their handkerchiefs with them in their pajamas? Same goes for Leslie Odom, Jr. and his pipe cleaner. Do you really need that in the middle of the night?
Why do that sneaky thing with the red kimono?
Okay, so maybe Daisy Ridley wore the red kimono to confuse Poirot somehow and just add to the chaos of the whole thing. But what in God’s name would be the purpose of then hiding that article of clothing in Poirot’s own suitcase? Just because doing a close-quarter murder onboard a train with a detective isn’t risky enough, you decide to spice things up by pulling a little prank? Hubris should have its limits. When you realize that a world-class detective happens to be onboard the train where your scheduled murder was supposed to take place, that should be the point where you stop adding fun little calling cards. If you wanted to get rid of the kimono because it was evidence of some sort, the train is stalled around a massive cavern-pit. You know, where you could throw things. Which brings us to…
Who decided the best way to get rid of the murder weapon was to stab someone else?
Again, the train is stopped above a cavern no one is able to get down. There are windows on the train that open, which might allow someone to throw something of their choosing into said cavern. Carefully stabbing Michelle Pfeiffer seems like unnecessary theatrics.
Why would Josh Gad run away?
I get that it adds a little dramatic flair to the film to have a chase scene down the rickety bridge, but obviously, someone fleeing from the scene of the crime makes them look incredibly guilty. There is nowhere for him to run — what was Josh Gad’s plan here? Escape, implicating himself as guilty, and then make it to some Yugoslavic village where the police would immediately arrest him? Because that’s a bad plan.
Why didn’t Poirot interrogate the conductor as a suspect?
The detective carefully cross-examines each member of the party one-by-one; it seems insane that he just somehow overlooked the conductor of the train, who claims to have been sitting in the corridor all night, as a suspect, especially when we find out that he’s just as guilty as the others.
Is Ratchett’s body just… decomposing somewhere onboard the train during all of this?
I get that there aren’t a lot of options here, but… gross.
What was the conversation like among the gang when they found out that a world-famous detective just happened to be on the train?
I feel like it would be like a group of girls making plans but finding out the restaurant they want to go to has an hour wait. “Ugh, should we postpone the murder? I feel like we should probably postpone the murder! But I mean, we’re all already here… Ugh, I don’t know! What do you want to do?” Eventually, they don’t postpone the murder, but they’re all passive aggressive about it the whole time.
If they knew Ratchett was Cassetti, why not just tell the police?
This is a major break from the book that just makes no logical sense. In the novel, Cassetti was tried for the kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong, but he used his resources to get off. And so the 12 murderers act as an extrajudicial jury. But in this version of the film, Cassetti escapes the legal system altogether. If we’re really supposed to believe that these people aren’t actually murderers and don’t want to kill anyone, why wouldn’t they just tell the police who Ratchett really is and let the justice system do its job?
Why would you cast Olivia Colman and only give her like one and a half scenes?
And for her major scene, she’s speaking German the whole time. It just seems like a tremendous oversight.
How did 12 of them fit in a single train compartment, let alone have room to move?
I have ridden in tight elevators and I commute on the New York City subway every single day and it’s very difficult to imagine. How did all of these people coordinate their bodies to fit? Did they have a line that snaked out into the hallway perhaps? Also, was there an order they established ahead of time? If so, was it by age, by rank, or by how badly they wanted to stab Johnny Depp?
Why did Michelle Pfeiffer feel the need to coordinate so many people?
Honestly, you’d think a squad of three or four murderers would suffice. What was the decision process like to up the group to a dozen? That feels like way too many murderers. When you get that many people involved, you’re massively upping the odds that someone would mess up, or not be able to keep the secret, or chicken out at the last minute. Sure, involve your godmother, and your daughter and son-in-law. Yes, the governess and nanny seem fine if they’re really passionate about getting involved. But by the time you start inviting the ex-chauffeur and the son of the prosecuting attorney, you have to ask yourself whether this whole elaborate revenge planning is just more of a hobby for you.
Side note: imagine how much easier this all would have been if they had a single group text. Or like, an email chain that the Italian count kept accidentally replying-all to.
Why does Poirot need a lost love?
Wistfully gazing down at an old photograph is such a cliché that it seems outrageous that Hercule Poirot wouldn’t immediately recognize it as gauche. Let me guess: hers was the one murder he could never solve?
Where can I find an Italian count-slash-ballet-dancer-slash-martial artist who wants to marry an American Jew?
I am not asking for a friend. This is for me.