Starring: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam
Director: Sidney Lumet
Running Time: 128 mins
Murder On The Orient Express is an American film about the events that unfold after a murderer strikes on a luxury train stuck in a snow drift, as detective Hercule Poirot sets out to find the killer among the passengers.
As star-studded as cinema gets, Sidney Lumet’s Murder On The Orient Express is by no means short on talent, but it is a film full of disappointing shortcomings. An underwhelming adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic story, the film is a languishing and dragging affair that, despite moments of fun, proves rather a chore to get through.
That’s a real shame, because if you looked at the cast and crew involved in this film, you’d think it would have the potential to be an all-time classic. Sidney Lumet is an expert director of detailed courtroom and legal dramas, and a murder mystery such as this is just right for his style and strengths.
Meanwhile, the cast features an exhaustive list of A-list actors, including Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Jacqueline Bisset and more. In that whole cast, there’s not one weak link, yet the ensemble doesn’t come together quite as spectacularly as you’d hope.
Unlike the 2017 remake, this film doesn’t suffer from a case of style over substance, but it’s a real underachievement given just how much energy, talent and money has been put in.
More of a hulking and convoluted blockbuster than a sleek big-screen adaptation of the classic Christie novel, Murder On The Orient Express really struggles to keep you engaged in the details and mystery of its main story, with its production, performances and pacing all proving very distracting.
The film is by no means fast-paced, and although it starts off promisingly as we follow Detective Poirot’s methodical investigation of the murder, things really start to drag from about the halfway point, bringing the film to a rather underwhelming ending, and not the tense and exciting revelation that it really should be.
Meanwhile, the film’s performances are, for want of a better word, a little much. Albert Finney seems to be having good fun in the lead role as Poirot, but his performance is so melodramatic and his Belgian accent so comical that I found it difficult to really see him as a genuinely competent detective. Finney does showcase Poirot’s ego nicely, but does little to endear you to the character in a way that would have made following his investigation all the more engaging.
Alongside Finney, the plethora of A-listers all seem to be clamouring for attention, and very few of them actually impress in doing so. Despite its slow pace and two-hour runtime, there isn’t much time for each of the cast members to have a big, starring moment, but most give a fairly lazy performance that brings little intrigue or mystery to the table.
Lauren Bacall is perhaps the best of the bunch, with her domineering style playing well against Finney’s Poirot, but the likes of Perkins, Connery and Redgrave are all pretty inactive, while the brilliance of Balsam and Bergman is hidden behind unnecessarily thick accents.
Director Sidney Lumet is undoubtedly one of cinema’s all-time greats, but he fails to bring this film together under one cosy roof. It’s a big, ambitious blockbuster, but it’s a rather messy one too, and with so much going on in seemingly random fashion, it’s difficult to knuckle down and follow the details in the way that a good murder mystery should let you.
Overall, I was disappointed by Murder On The Orient Express. Despite its wealth of talent, the film is a very messy affair, with its brightest moments overshadowed by a clumsy and convoluted all-star adaptation of a classic murder mystery. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 6.9.