Murder on the Orient Express

November 11, 2017

Kenneth Branagh established his career making film adaptations of very traditional Shakespeare interpretations with very impressive production values. The idea of making Henry V and including a massive recreation of Agincourt, with all the blood, mud, grit, and horror, was revolutionary and amazing. I love that film.

So I’m not sure why I’m surprised that his Agatha Christie adaptation is very traditional, with impressive production values — the train is nearly its own character. But I confess I expected a bit more. An approach with some zing. The trailer had so much energy, with fast cuts and an impressive pounding modern rock song. I think I wanted that to carry through to the  movie. Something stylized and anachronistic and startling — given that this is very probably the most famous murder mystery in the world and we all know how it ends. But I think this movie mostly exists because Branagh really wanted to play Poirot. And that’s okay.

That might have been my most startling takeaway:  Branagh handles Christie the same way he handles Shakespeare, and that maybe Christie really does deserve to be on a level with Shakespeare, at least in terms of her impact on popular culture — she didn’t invent mystery, but she laid the foundations for its modern popularity.

I should add that I’m suspicious of my own reaction to this movie, because only a couple months ago I binged the last six seasons of David Suchet’s Poirot while massively revising my own murder mystery novel (The Wild Dead, due out July ’18!) and because of that sort of emotionally clung to the character. He was comforting. And the Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express is extraordinary. The show saved it for near the end of the whole run, and they use it to advance and develop a character arc:  this is the case that breaks Poirot, that irrevocably damages his sense that there is such a thing as concrete justice and that he will always be able to separate out the murderers from the innocent. He’s very angry here. At the end, he walks away from the train with his faith in tatters. It’s powerful, and it sets up stuff that happens right up to the last episode.

Granted, the show was able to do this because Suchet had been playing the role for decades and that’s a long time to develop a character. Branagh’s version is a safe version, a traditional version, and that’s okay, and I suspect I would have liked it more had I not just seen Suchet’s a couple months before.


3 Responses to “Murder on the Orient Express”

  1. howardbrazee Says:

    It sounds like earlier all-star productions of that book. If we know the story, we go to watch the performances.

  2. carriev Says:

    Yes, that’s definitely the reason for this one. We were all happy to see Daisy Ridley get to do something non-Star Wars.

  3. Daisy Ridley also was one of the leads in the English dub of the Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday, alongside Dev Patel. Good times. 🙂

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