"The reason for the murder lies in the past."
Hercule Poirot says those words towards the end of Murder on the Orient Express, writer Agatha Christie's 1934 mystery novel about the hunt for a killer aboard a snowbound train. At the moment in the novel, the eighth entry in the 33-book series centered around the meticulous detective, Poirot interviews one of the many suspects in the case, hoping to unlock a new clue, but his comment also explains why this nearly century old story still has so much resonance. Why do readers and viewers keep boarding this perilous choo-choo? The answer lies in the past -- specifically in a real kidnapping that shocked the world.
While many of Christie's stories have been adapted for the big screen and Poirot was the star of his own long-running British television series, this specific tale of locomotive crime has lingered in the public imagination. After a 1974 film starring Albert Finney, a 2001 made-for-TV movie starring Alfred Molina, and even a 2006 computer game that updated the mystery for the point-and-click era, we're now greeted by another take, this one a star-studded blockbuster for the Cinematic Universe age with polymath Kenneth Branagh donning Poirot's moustache and directing the film in his unapologetically lush, Dutch-angle-filled style. His Murder on the Orient Express, which arrives in theaters this Friday, is ridiculous, but, for all of his hammy excess, Branagh, along with the film's screenwriter Michael Green, retain the major plot point that makes the story tick.