It’s no secret there’s a twist at the end of Murder on the Orient Express. It’s not just an Agatha Christie murder mystery, but quite possibly her very best; a twisted take on the genre she owned that pushes iconic detective Hercule Poirot to the limits of his morals. Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 movie, which he both directed and stars in, is a glossy, star-studded but mostly faithful take. With the film finally in cinemas, let’s discuss that 73-year-old shocker.
Murder of the Orient Express introduces us to Poirot in Jerusalem where he’s solving a crime with typically Sherlockian logic, but that’s all preamble to the real meat. Forced to travel back to England to help with a previous investigation, he takes the Orient Express – along with a surprisingly large group of other passengers considering it’s the height of winter. Things immediately feel off, and shortly after an avalanche derails the train, a body is discovered…
There Are Twelve Killers, All Connected To The Victim
The victim in question is Samuel Ratchett, played by Johnny Depp. With an ominous scar over his right eye (something that immediately irks the OCD Poirot), we’re at first led to believe his prior crimes go as far as selling fake rugs to gangsters, but the truth quickly emerges after his death. He’s actually John Cassetti, who a few years prior kidnapped baby Daisy Armstrong from her parent’s house and, after getting paid the ransom, murdered her, causing mother Sonia to fatefully miscarry and pushing the father to suicide. However, despite being known as the killer, he got away with it; due to a series of unfortunate events, a maid was wrongfully convicted of the crime.
And so we get the film’s intense form of vigilante justice; thirteen people with some connection to the Armstrongs and the ensuing investigation band together to get their revenge. They each have a part to play, ensnaring Cassetti in an elaborate trap that culminates with them all together on the isolated Orient Express. Before getting into how they actually did the murder, though, let’s break down how they’re all connected:
- Linda Arden (Michelle Pfeiffer) – The mother of Sonia and grandmother of Daisy. A former stage performer (under a pseudonym).
- Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz) – Daisy’s nanny, she was asleep when Cassetti broke into the Armstrong house (and became a nun after incident).
- Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe) – A former detective, he worked on the Armstrong case and fell for the maid convicted of the killing.
- Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) – A friend of Sonia’s and Daisy’s Godmother.
- Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Coleman) – The Armstrongs’ cook, now Princess Dragomiroff’s assistant.
- Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad) – The son of the disgraced District Attorney who worked the Armstrongs, now positioned as Cassetti’s secretary.
- Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi) – A war buddy of Colonel Armstrong and later his butler, posing as Cassetti’s valet.
- Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) – The Armstrongs’ governess.
- Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) – A war comrade and close friend to Armstrong, who helped get him into medical school.
- Countess Elena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton) – Real name Helena Goldenberg, she was Sonia Armstrong’s sister and Daisy’s aunt.
- Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin) – Helena’s husband.
- Biniamino Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) – The Armstrongs’ chauffeur.
- Pierre Michel (Marwan Kenzari) – The brother of the wrongly-accused nurse, now the Orient Express’ conductor (not one of the killers but still in on the murder).
As Poirot investigates, he discovers these connections and, in light of the high level of contradictory evidence from the suspects, forms two possible solutions: the first is that one of Ratchett’s mob enemies snuck on the train and killed him; the second is that they’re all guilty. He correctly rationalizes that the more horrifying latter is correct, and reveals his conclusion to the Last Supper-arranged murderers (standing in for the classic parlor).
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