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Cinema in Focus: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

3 Stars — Thought Provoking

Murder on the Orient Express is the latest rendition of the classic novel by the same name, written by Agatha Christie and featuring the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

This story has been reproduced numerous times since its release in 1934, with the 1974 film version being one of Hollywood’s best productions, starring Albert Finney in the prime role along with 14 other A-List stars.

This new version has Kenneth Branagh as the world-renown detective along with another bevy of stars, ranging from bad guy Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) to the elusive Princess Dragomiroff (Dame Judi Dench).

Christie allegedly wrote this novel while staying in a hotel room in Istanbul in the early 1930s. In those days, the Simplon-Orient Express was among the most famous and fascinating trains in the world, traveling the mysterious route between France and Istanbul. (Today, you can take a luxury version of this train from Paris to Venice.)

At the time of her writing the novel, the infamous Lindbergh murder had just taken place in the United States, and the novel parallels in many ways the public fascination with the details and emotions surrounding the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son.

If you don’t know the story, then we aren’t going to give away the plot. Poirot has been in Istanbul and is called back to London on urgent business. He manages through connections to get the last compartment on the Orient Express leaving that night for Paris. Little does he know that a murder is going to take place, and that the train will be snowbound en route to its destination, or that this will give the detective ample time to investigate and solve the crime.

What unfolds is one of the best “who done it?” stories of the early 20th century. Each character is a classic story in and of themselves.

The moral challenge is whether to determine that this murder is a crime, or a collective verdict and sentencing. Who will be harmed further by determining that a crime was committed? Who can have their lives back if justice is served?

Poirot is a stickler for detail and holding the right people accountable for their crimes. Here, he is stumped. You will have to be judge.

While the story hasn’t changed, the art of movie-making has. With computer graphics, this version of the Orient Express is visually stunning and gives you a glimpse into the world of wealth in midst of the Depression.

The lives of the people on the train span three continents, but despite their varied backgrounds and shared privilege, the question of how they are connected and what constitutes right versus wrong hasn’t changed.

Murder on the Orient Express is a satisfying tale, but it still remains a challenge as to what its ending means, and each viewer will have to measure the outcome against their own values.

Discussion

» Do you believe there is a moral case to be made for a group of people seeking justice to take matters into their own hands? Why do you answer as you do?

» A great mystery story, even when known is a work of art. What is it about this tale that continues to captivate audiences the world over?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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