While traveling from Istanbul to London aboard the luxurious Orient Express, Hercule Poirot encounters a ruthless businessman who offers him a large sum to expose the person threatening his life. Poirot declines, not caring for the man or his money. But when he is stabbed to death, the detective is determined to find the killer. With the help of an amateur sleuth (Samuel West, Van Helsing), Poirot begins to piece together the chain of events leading up to the murder. Eileen Atkins (Cold Mountain), Toby Jones (Frost/Nixon, Infamous), Hugh Bonneville (Iris), and Barbara Hershey (Hannah and Her Sisters) guest star.
Take the mental capacity and mystery solving finesse of Sherlock Holmes and the quirkiness of Inspector Clouseau and you have a good idea what Detective Poirot (David Suchet) is like. Poirot, who refers to himself in the third person, is an eccentric detective who has gained quite a bit of fame over the years.
'Murder on the Orient Express' is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name. Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express on his way back to London. As with any whodunit, we are given an eclectic bunch of suspects. The Orient Express is a melting pot of the rich and the poor, the noble and the peasant. An aged European princess and her handmaid, a general from Britain and his young girlfriend, a shifty-eyed conductor, an obstetrician from America, and a nervous American man with a briefcase full of cash and an extreme case of paranoia; He's sure everyone on the train is out to get him, and knowing what the famous Poirot does for a living, he soon plops down a stack of money and asks for protection. Poirot, a principled man, who takes his job seriously, he rejects the offer. He just doesn't feel right about it.
When the express train hits an unexpected snow bank the passengers find themselves stranded. To make matters worse, they've found that the paranoid man has been murdered. Poirot is on the case, although quite reluctantly.
The film's score booms away as it shows numerous shots of the train barreling down the tracks. You know something bad is going to happen. All of this creates a believable and imaginative, albeit dark setting for a murder mystery. None of it feels hokey, or silly. Poirot, with all his quirks and his finely waxed mustache, takes what he does very seriously.
He's a God fearing man, and the religious views of those onboard the train come into full view as he interviews them one by one. The killer must still be onboard, because there were no tracks in the snow after they found the man murdered. We get continuous flashbacks to the night in question, with each passenger giving their recollection of the events. Poirot studies everyone and everything, until he offers up his deluge of reasoning at the end of the film bolstered by images of the murder happening.
'Murder on the Orient Express' is a by-the-numbers whodunit, but the last five minutes is what make it such a treat. Poirot is constantly trying to do the right thing. What he's faced with at the end is one of his greatest struggles. A man that believes so much in the law of the land is confronted with a conundrum of principles. What does he do and why does he do it, are what really provide a resolution to this story. The mystery is well done, but the moral dilemmas behind the murder make this worth watching.
According to Acorn Media's website this is indeed their first foray into Blu-ray with British TV, and I can say they've handled it relatively well, but there are a few aspects regarding the transfer that they need to work on.
The 1080p picture for 'Murder on the Orient Express' does extremely well in well-lit scenes. Some of the shots of the steam locomotive as it shoots through the snow covered forest are spectacular, clear, and beautiful to look at. When faces are lit they provide great detail, even down to the individual hairs on Poirot's perfectly waxed mustache. Skintones are natural, for the most part, with textures and patterns appearing with clarity whenever light hits them.
As you've probably guessed with all the mention of well lit scenes looking good, the dimly lit scenes here look mediocre at best and horrendous at worst. Crushing far too often runs rampant, chewing up scenery and people without regard to details or lines. Faces are gobbled up in the blackness. Delineation is nonexistent, as shadows do less defining, and more covering up. Some of the darker scenes also feature an abnormal amount of grain that cannibalizes the image like a hill of angry ants run amok. I did notice a few instances of banding during the nighttime shots of the train moving through the darkness, and also during the flashbacks of newspaper articles passing across the screen. Annoying instances of blocking never appear though, which was nice, especially for a company's first-time Blu-ray effort. Overall, it's an admirable attempt that presents us with some very strong visuals when light is present, but in the dark all is lost.
The DTS-HD Master Audio gives us a 5.1 presentation which was, in my mind, much better than I expected.
First off, the score is fantastic. It does a great job at setting the mood and helping the story move along with a continuous feel of foreboding. The ominous soundtrack, with low deep bass and eerie violins is piped through the soundfield rather well, lending the proceedings an ambiance of creepiness. LFE is engaged during the heavy helping of the booming soundtrack and also during the shots that show the train rumbling down the tracks. When the train hits the snow bank and screeches to a halt, the room fills with noises of crunching snow and scraping metal. The rears are a bit subdued, but do offer a good amount of background noise to keep the soundfield lively and worth listening too. As you may have guessed this movie is mainly centered up front with heavy dialogue. The dialogue can sound a tad muffled at times. Other than a few soft moments, the dialogue is clear and concise letting you pick up on all of the questions posed by Poirot, and the answers given by the suspects.
I love Acorn Media and its fight to bring some of the best British television to American audiences, and their first go at bringing it to Blu-ray is a worthy effort. Poirot's adventure on the Orient Express is not only a murder mystery, but also a look into the morals of the great detective. The video is great at times, but fails when it comes to creating believable and detailed dark scenes. The sound design is much more aggressive than I thought it would be, with an astounding score that frames the film as a whole perfectly. The special feature about the real Orient Express is a very interesting watch, but the rest of the features are just screens of text information. I'm still giving a recommendation for this one because it's a great mystery movie, and if we want Acorn to keep bringing British TV to Blu-ray, picking this up will help the cause.