Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Murder On The Orient Express by Patrick Doyle (Review)

posted Nov 14, 2017, 3:35 PM by Kaya Savas

Patrick Doyle and Kenneth Branagh go together like peas and carrots, so it’s always great to see such a top tier composer continuing a working relationship with a director that has spanned for decades. Murder On The Orient Express had lots of great promise with Branagh acting and directing, the classic Agatha Christie story, a crazy talented cast and of course Doyle doing the score. Unfortunately the adaptation falls short of presenting something truly engaging for an audience even though Doyle does his best to build atmosphere and intrigue.

The issue with Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express is that the audience really spends no time with any of the characters enough to care about the mystery. The entire focus of the film is really Branagh’s Hercule Poirot, and his journey from OCD detective to realizing the world isn’t as black and white as “good and bad”. The film opens in Jerusalem and Doyle’s music heavily comments on the location, almost too much. Yes, we are in the Middle East, but it hits us on the head a bit hard and we really don’t get the score’s true identity till the second act. The music is so large and so lush in the first act that it feels like it’s for a different movie altogether. In the second act we see the score shift into mystery mode, and it does a great job of building atmosphere and intrigue. Unfortunately the narrative unfolding onscreen is not terribly atmospheric or intriguing. The film fails to pull the audience in, and the score has a hard time finding any kind of emotional pull to make the story engaging. To give credit to Doyle, the film itself doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. At time the movie seems to only care about Hercule Poirot's arc, at times we are deep into finding motive, and then we bounce around from all the possible suspects in the train. Instead of feeling like an organic unraveling of a mystery, it almost feels like we are checking things off a shopping list. Since the film doesn't really focus on any one thing too well, we sort of get this generic narrative that doesn't give enough substance for the music to work off of.

While we have some subtle use of motifs throughout the score, nothing really creates the emotional weight that is needed. At no point in the score do you feel suspense or danger, there isn’t really a threat present. In fact all the steam from the narrative sort of falls flat after the actual murder happens. In the end it’s really gorgeous music and it’s wonderfully written, but the narrative it was written for is pretty empty. Patrick Doyle and Kenneth Branagh are always a great team, but this adaptation was pretty stale throughout, and no matter how much finesse Doyle put into the score it couldn’t really make it terribly compelling. From its out of place and stylistically different first act to its surface level structure, the score for Murder On The Orient Express is pretty to listen to but doesn’t carry much dramatic weight beyond hitting the standard beats of the story.