On December 1st, I attended a showing of Murder on the Orient Express at the State Theater located in Traverse City, Michigan. I have been to this very theater only once before and both times it has been a very enjoyable experience. The theater was actually built in the 1920’s and after many years it became very run down, but in 2008 the theater was restored to its former glory and donated to the Traverse City Film Festival. On this particular weekend the theater was doing a special event where they were showing movies directed by the director of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh.

When walking through downtown Traverse City the theater is not hard to spot, it lights up the busy strip with a bright, classic marquee sign where I could clearly see that Murder on the Orient Express was showing that night. I walk in and am immediately amazed by how classic the theater is kept, even though it had been totally redone the theater kept its 1920’s charm and held many classic theater elements. The decor was very elaborate, and all of the employees/ushers were dressed up in suits. I got the chance to talk to one of the ushers before entering and he explained to me how the theater runs off of donations, not only money donations but they receive film donations as well. Theaters donate their older films that they have already used to be shown, some film groups also raise money to hold special film events. He also explained that every employee that works at the State Theater is a volunteer and they donate their time to keep the theater running. As I entered the actual screening room I was filled with the same excitement I received from the previous time I had visited the theater because you instantly see the classic red velvet curtain covering the screen and ushers standing along the isles with flashlights, prepared to aid with seating. Then as you draw your eyes up towards the ceiling you see a black velvet ceiling covered with twinkling lights to give the appearance of a night sky. To my surprise the theater quickly became full of people. It seemed as though the State Theater is a very popular place to visit when in Traverse City. Not too long after I sat down the red curtains began to open apart to reveal a man dressed in a suit standing up on the stage. The show began with a little introduction from the man on stage, he gave a brief background of the theaters history and how they receive their generous donations, and then asking anyone in the audience if they had any questions about the history. Then as the employee exited the stage, the screen lit up and started with an introduction video that gave a background to the movie and the director behind it. My favorite part of the previews was a creative montage of a variety of films, from the true classics to the new and upcoming hits that the theater had put together. I particularly favored this montage because it left you with a satisfied and cheerful feeling about film before diving in.

Murder on the Orient Express was released in 2017 and was directed by Kenneth Branngh, who is known for also directing other popular films such as Hamlet, Henry V, Thor and countless more. The movie falls under the murder mystery/mystery thriller genre of film but takes these genres and does the all-time classic “whodunnit?” version that you don’t necessarily see too often in modern murder mystery films.  The film is set on a traveling train in Europe in 1934. The traveling train is suddenly stopped when an avalanche derails the engine. The main character, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is known as the world’s greatest detective, heard a commotion the night before in one of the other passenger’s cabin and when looking to see where the commotion came from he caught a glimpse someone running down the hall in a red kimono. The next morning when Poirot goes to alert a passenger of the avalanche delay he discovers a murdered man where he then realizes his murder was the source of the loud commotion. He looks through the room and finds a variety of different clues and uses his own witness account of the red kimono to build the story of the murder. From that point on, finding the murderer becomes his main objective.  He individually investigates all of the other passengers that represent a wide variety of different types of people, such as Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) a representation of a western-American middle class woman, and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) a high class elder woman. A majority of the film consists of Poirot collecting a trail of evidence and personal testimonies. Just when he believes he had the case pieced together, the whole thing turns into a plot twist. I can’t say too much more without giving away the entire plot, but it was definitely not an ending I was expecting and it was not just a single man operation.  Overall, the audience didn’t have too many noticeable reactions for me to take note of besides some light chuckles when Johnny Depp’s character, Edward Ratchett, made a sarcastic comment. But at the end when the murderer was revealed I could see the surprise on everyone’s face because out of all the theories people came up with no one expected what happened. And as we exited the theater I noticed the film left not only my family discussing the outcome, but all of the other fellow viewers as they filed out alongside us. The film did follow a lot of the classic conventions of a murder mystery to the point where it almost felt like an acted-out game of Clue. It contained the classic old-time detective with the trench coat and a crime scene containing clues for the detective to go off of. Although the ending was not expected it should have been since another classic convention of murder mystery is some sort of plot twist or misdirection to throw the whole audience off.

I ended up enjoying the movie and the classic “whodunnit” theme it showcased because I don’t often get to experience this classic theme. After watching this movie I began reading the book it was based off of and I think that this film portrayed the book fairly well. When viewing the movie on its own without any prior knowledge of the novel, it is interesting and enjoyable. But after reading part of the novel I began to realize the movie was not very impressive. The plot was interesting but lacked a lot of detail and never truly captivated the viewer. I also realized that none of the characters were truly developed, and although Hercule Poirot was the main character you never truly gained an understanding or connection to him.  I had a great experience at the State Theater and would definitely recommend that if you are ever in Traverse City please attend a showing!

1 thought on “Whodunnit?

  1. First of all, I want to say that I think your post is very well written and organized. I have never been to the State Theatre in Traverse City, but I feel like I got a good picture of it in my head while reading your post, and I also think you explained the background history if the theatre super well! I think it’s so cool that this theatre is operated completely through donations, that seems pretty world to find today. I also think that the classic elements of visiting the theatre, represented through the uniforms of the ushers and the classic red carpet, is something that more movie theatres should still hold; it’s such a classic part of the experience. In regards to this film, I have also watched it and felt that you summarized it well. I also think that your critiques of the film are very accurate. When you said that there was not much reaction from the audience through the film, I remembered that I actually fell asleep during this film- it really wasn’t that exciting. I did like the variety of characters represented, but as you also stated, we never really got a personal connection to a single one. However, I did like how the movie ended and that my overall guess on who committed the crime was wrong. I thought it was interesting that you also started to read the novel and realized how underrepresented it was in the movie, great comparison!


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