Mission Lab 2018

REVIEW: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is packed with ethical dilemmas

November 10th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is packed with ethical dilemmas

Hercule Poirot is the world’s best detective, and easily the most popular one, too. With a knack for solving impossible cases – as well as a flamboyant mustache – Poirot attracts attention wherever he goes.

Detective work, though, can be tiring, and Poirot needs a vacation. So he takes a multi-day train ride on the scenic Orient Express, confident that he will get a little rest and relaxation.

But little goes as planned. First, a rich single woman begins hitting on him. Then, a pushy passenger makes a shocking business proposition. And – wouldn’t you know it? – someone is murdered, just as the train derails.  

Suddenly, our reclusive hero is pushed back into the spotlight, as he must determine which of the remaining 13 passengers committed the crime. He also must find the bad guy before he (or she) strikes again.

Murder on the Orient Express (PG) opens this weekend in a retelling of Agatha Christie’s popular novel. It is set in 1934 Europe and stars Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Valkyrie) as Poirot and a host of well-known names as the passengers. The cast includes Penélope Cruz (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows), Johnny Depp (the Pirates of the Caribbean series), Josh Gad (Frozen) and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Branagh doubles as the director.

Despite the impressive cast, Murder on the Orient Express is only an average film. The first third and last third of the film are interesting enough, but the middle third is so slow that a man behind me in the theater fell asleep and began snoring. The caffeine from a Dr. Pepper was the only thing that spared me.

Still, the movie does toss some thought-provoking ethical questions our way.  

Let’s examine the details:   

Warning: spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Several men fight in a restaurant. We see the murdered man’s body, but it’s not too graphic; he is clothed, with blood on his torso. We also hear theories about the murder. Later, someone gets shot in the arm. A lady puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger, but it’s not loaded. We also see a non-graphic flashback/recreation of the murder, but we don’t see the body or any blood.

Sexuality/Sensuality

We see a prostitute in a restaurant and we hear the word “prostitute” twice. A train worker implies he is after romance/sex on the trip. A lady acknowledges she is “husband shopping,” but she seems to want a one-night stand, too. 

Coarse Language

I counted 13 coarse words: d—n (4), h-ll (4), GD (2), misuse of “God” (3).

Other Positive Elements

Hercule Poirot is a model detective. There is right and wrong in the world, he says, and nothing in between. Although, by the end of the movie, he begins doubting his own beliefs. He also carries in his luggage a black-and-white picture of a woman (his deceased wife?).

After the avalanche derails the train, a passenger says that events are “in God’s hands.”

Other Negative Elements

No doubt, Poirot is a brilliant detective, but he also thinks too highly of himself. He even claims that when someone is murdered, “there are two people who will know: your God and Hercule Poirot.”

“I am probably the greatest detective in the world,” he says.

He’s also the most confident one.

Life Lessons

Scripture says “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23), and Murder on the Orient Express details that lesson on the big screen. Of course, not every killer will be caught on this side of eternity, but God will judge all of us someday – as even the film acknowledges.

The movie also shows us how deception can cast a wide net, entangling multiple people. Tragedy, too, can impact dozens of people, as the plot makes clear.   

Worldview

We live in a society that questions authority. God, though, says the government – and by extension the police – exists to protect citizens and to avenge evil,“For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer,” (Romans 13:3). Police and detectives are God’s instrument (Romans 13:1).

Hercule Poirot’s role in Murder on the Orient Express is to find the wrongdoer. Yes, he is a fictional character, but there are thousands like him in real life. They deserve our respect and prayers.  

Murder on the Orient Express also raises the question: Is it OK to take the law in your own hands? The film provides its own answer, but is it based on Scripture?

Poirot, too, faces an ethical conundrum at the end.

Family-Friendly?

Murder mysteries aren’t for kids. But this one is probably OK for many teens.

What I Liked

The scenery – the Orient Express train winds its way through snow-capped mountains -- and the plot twists. I had never read the book, so I truly didn’t know “who done it.” Additionally, for a murder mystery, it is light on language and violence.  

What I Didn’t Like

At times, the movie has the feel of a local dinner theater; the middle of the movie moves awfully slow. At other times, the film is just plain silly; Pfeiffer’s overly dramatic character is a prime example.  

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

I thought I would really enjoy Murder on the Orient Express. I didn’t. It has its moments, but it’s mostly a thumbs down.   

Discussion Questions

  1. It is ever OK to take the law in your own hands? If yes, then when? If not, when why not?
  2. One character says, “Sometimes the law of man is not enough.” Do you agree?
  3. Did you agree with Hercule Poirot’s actions at the end? Why or why not?
  4. Examine the impact of a tragedy in your life. Did it cast as wide a net as did the one portrayed in the film? 

Entertainment rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Murder on the Orient Express is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.