By Bradley Griffith

“Murder on the Orient Express” is a welcome respite from the abundance of action movies that are attacking the theaters during this holiday season. Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the mystery is an entertaining way to exercise your mind and curiosity, and is a great way to spend a chilly autumn evening.

As the movie opens in 1934 famous Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is in Jerusalem at the request of the local police force. Someone has stolen a priceless relic and the three main suspects are a rabbi, a priest, and an imam. Only Hercule Poirot can solve such a crime and keep the peace between the three religions in the tumultuous city.

After solving that caper, Poirot decides to take a much-needed vacation. While in Istanbul Poirot receives a telegram regarding an impending case in England and he must return at once. His friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) offers him a berth on his train, the Orient Express.  Poirot gladly accepts, believing that the train ride may provide some rest and relaxation for his journey.

Instead, Poirot meets a rather unsavory character named Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) on the train. Ratchett knows of Poirot through his reputation and tries to hire Poirot to be his bodyguard. Ratchett is an unscrupulous businessman and has many enemies. He has been receiving threatening letters. Poirot politely declines. When Ratchett objects, Poirot not-so-politely declines. Later that night Poirot hears unusual noises coming from Ratchett’s compartment and sees a woman dashing away from Rathchett’s room in a red kimono.

The next morning Poirot finds Ratchett dead in his room. Bouc convinces Poirot to take the case. Several clues are found in the room that taken together make no sense. One thing is for certain, only someone on the train could be the murderer.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is, of course, based on the novel by Agatha Christie. “Murder” is a classic whodunit story, maybe THE classic whodunit story of all time and it is faithfully and expertly brought to the screen by Branagh. The movie has more action than the book and tells the story a little more theatrically, but the essence of the locked-room mystery still remains.

The movie does a very fine job of setting the stage for the mystery to come. The characters aboard the train seem to all be equally suspicious and equally innocent at the same time. The fact that someone on the train must be the killer and that the train is stopped in literally the middle of nowhere by an avalanche of snow heightens the intrigue and tension.

The cast of “Murder” is all performed well. Branagh’s Poirot is equal parts pretentious, relentless, eccentric, and brilliant. His fancy mustache itself is a thing to behold. The remaining cast members include Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, and Judi Dench. It is without a doubt the best assembled cast of the year.

The only problem with the movie, and it can’t be avoided, is that if you have read the book you already know the identity of the killer. I read the book long ago, but not so long that I forgot the ending. It does dull the enjoyment of the movie just a touch, but seeing the iconic characters come together using modern filmmaking techniques makes the story feel fresh.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is a satisfying adaptation of the classic novel, a classic novel that is actually enjoyable to read and also to watch on the big screen. I, for one, vote for more adaptations of Agatha Christie novels.

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Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.