If we take a second to closely examine Rotten Tomatoes for a second, I think that 58 percent is not actually as bad of a score as some might think. It's sometimes easy to see a score that's less than 70 percent and immediately declare that critics hated the movie. In reality, I'd say that anything that's between 40 percent and 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes should be classified as mixed reviews. The percentage you see on Rotten Tomatoes literally means the percent of certified Rotten Tomatoes critics that gave the movie a positive review. Barely positive counts as positive. That means that you could theoretically have 95 percent of critics claiming the movie was just OK and the movie would still get that 95 percent score. You could also theoretically have 50 percent of critics describe the movie as the best movie ever made while the other 50 percent weren't quite as enthralled and the movie would get that 50 percent score. So if you see a movie like "Murder on the Orient Express" in the 50 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes, that doesn't mean skip it because everyone hates the movie. It literally means there is not a consensus, so you should go in and find out for yourself if it was a movie that you were excited for because you just might be part of the positive group.
If you look at the rest of Branagh's filmography, it kinda makes sense that he would go this direction with a classic Agatha Christie novel. While not all of his movies have worked out in the eyes of critics or the general public, he definitely has a type as he started with "Henry V" in 1989 and proceed to direct movies such as "Much Ado About Nothing," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," "A Midwinter's Tale" and "Hamlet" in the 90's. A lot of Shakespeare in there with a classic Mary Shelley tale thrown in as well. Even with his most recent film prior to "Murder on the Orient Express," it makes sense that he would take a very safe, classic approach to Disney's live action "Cinderella" from 2015, a movie that a lot of my friends really loved because of how true it stayed to Cinderella's story. You can even look at the original "Thor" from 2011 and see a lot of Branagh's classic elements to it. He likes taking classic material and doing his best to turn them into classic films made in the modern-day. Again, it doesn't work out every time for him. But in this instance I think he nailed the tone of this movie. We obviously have a lot of mystery and suspense with this, but the intensity level is purposely toned down in favor of some classic dialogue-centered detective work.
You may have noticed in this review a lack of my typical plot description that I usually include in the second paragraph of my reviews. I've purposely omitted that as I don't want to talk about the plot of this movie. If you're familiar with Agatha Christie's 1930's novel and/or the 1974 film adaptation, you already know the plot of this movie anyways. If you are like me and you very much enjoy old-fashioned detective movies, but you aren't familiar with this specific story, then I don't want to tell you the plot because you should go in knowing as little as possible. But if you need it, there's been a murder. On the Orient Express. Shocker!!! Kenneth Branagh, who I've already talked about a lot as the director of this film, also doubles as the movie's lead star, detective Hercule Poirot. And he's doing his best to solve this thing. Being very well aware several months ago that this movie was heading our way, I debated in my head as to whether I wanted to familiarize myself with the source material. I ended up making the conscience decision not to, deciding instead to go into this movie blind. I think it's quite possible that this decision played a factor in my personal enjoyment of the film as I had a lot of fun trying to solve this mystery along with Hercule Poirot.
Did I solve the mystery? No, I actually didn't. Did I have my premonitions? Not really. I was quite surprised with the results. Is that the reason why I enjoyed this, because they successfully kept me in the dark? No, I don't think so. I don't usually judge my experience with these detective movies based on whether or not I solved the mystery myself. I think a better judge to these movies is how does the story hold up when you go back through it a second time, whether that be in your mind or on a re-watch. No, I haven't watched the movie a second time, but I did spend the weekend thinking about it as I didn't have time on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to write my review after seeing this movie Friday evening. In general, if the enjoyment of a movie is hinged on the twist ending or the surprise, I think that's a bit of a precarious situation as there's a risk that the movie is no longer enjoyable a second time through. Thus the best mystery films are the ones that have a well-thought out story with great characters and great motivations. Even though I'm not yet familiar with the source material here, I can make a good guess as to why it's stood the test of time. I found the conclusion of this movie to be very satisfying and emotional with some great themes in place.
That's all I'm going to say about this movie. I could dive into the themes, but that would spoil the movie. Just know that they made me ponder and think more than your average murder mystery. This is a movie that's not hinged solely on the fun, whodunit that you play while watching. I predict that this will have the rewatchability factor, even though I have not yet watched it a second time. I could also talk a lot about the acting here, but I feel like if I singled out the actors or actresses that did a good job in this movie that it would clue you into who are the major characters, so I'm going to avoid that. I do feel comfortable saying that Kenneth Branagh did a great job as Hercule Poirot since it's his vantage point that we are seeing this movie from. I will also add that there are some fantastic acting performances from various cast members. Once you've seen the movie, you can come talk to me and I will share with you who those were. But for now, I will leave that a mystery. When push comes to shove, "Murder on the Orient Express" is a movie where you have to ask yourself if you enjoy old-fashioned detective movies. If they're not your thing, then you don't need to bother with this movie. But if you eat them up, then definitely go see this one. My grade for the movie is a solid 8/10.