After watching “Murder on the Orient Express” three years ago, I was hesitant to see “Knives Out.” Even as a massive fan of the book, I felt that “Murder on the Orient Express” had failed in every way possible, and I lost a lot of faith in mystery movies. But after seeing the amazing reviews of “Knives Out” on Twitter, I decided to fork over a few bucks and see if it lived up to the hype. And to my surprise, it definitely was. It was arguably one of the best movies that I had seen in 2019 and I loved every minute of it. But the whole time I was thinking back to “Murder on the Orient Express,” wondering how “Knives Out” could do so well when it had failed so badly. So I decided to compare the two movies to see what made them so different in their successes. If you want to quickly get caught up with what happened in “Murder on the Orient Express,” read our review. If not, let’s get right into it, but beware of minor spoilers.
A large cast of characters is a common feature of many Agatha Christie novels, and “Murder on the Orient Express” is no exception. In her books, her characters are always memorable and full of life. But in the movie, they failed to come across as anything but one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Even though I read the book, the movie left me confused about who was who and what exactly everyone’s role was in the plot. The movie seemed to continue without taking any time to establish the characters. This made the story incredibly difficult to follow and detracted from the mystery of the movie.
“Knives Out” did not have the same issue. The characters are a crucial part of what made this movie so enjoyable, with each one being a comedic spin on what we expect from the “rich family” dynamic. The interview scenes between the lead detective and each family member at the beginning of the movie are used to establish each character in a very concise and straightforward way. These interviews also allow each character to give their opinion on each other, leading to more than one moment of hilarity as we watch the familial relationships unfold.
The whole point of a mystery is to keep the viewer guessing as to what happened until the very end. Agatha Christie isn’t the third bestselling author of all-time for no reason. She knew how to write an amazing mystery and created many of the cliches that we recognize today. So, the fact that every character was involved in the murder usually comes as a shock to the readers of “Murder on the Orient Express.” Most of the book plays out with interviews and dialogue, with clues sprinkled in each page. The final reveal is dramatic enough to hold up the book and keep readers guessing. But the movie took this ending and decided to twist it. They changed a number of details and added several scenes to try to up the drama of the plot. The producers tried to make an almost thriller-action movie out of what was a perfect, slow-paced murder mystery. This made the movie seem dramatically unrealistic and took away from what made the original book into such a renowned work.
Unlike “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Knives Out” was a murder mystery that was actually written to fit into the framework of a movie. The murder happens quickly and leaves the audience thinking that they knew what happened right from the start. But then confessions fail to line up and the whole plot twists and turns on itself, so even I, a massive mystery fan, didn’t know quite what was going on until the end. There were dramatic reveals and extravagances sprinkled throughout, but it never felt out of place. The movie was self-aware of how ridiculous some aspects were, and they incorporated that into the general feel of the movie.
Overall, these two movies show how something as classic as a murder mystery can either go incredibly right or terribly wrong. So if you haven’t seen it yet, check out “Knives Out” in theaters. See you all soon!
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