Poirot’s Murder Most Foul, Justice Most Brutal

DATELINE:  Another Remake on the Horizon

best orient express

Best Version of Murder on the Orient Express

The David Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express is a completely different movie than the glitzy Hollywood all-star version of the 1970s. It is utterly dark. And it is far more cynical than the Christie novel, but is faithful next to the newest star-cartoon vehicle coming out soon with Kenneth Branagh as an unconvincing Poirot.

The teleplay version created a stunning, dank and dark 1930s. Perhaps this was what Agatha Christie intended in far more subtle manners.

From the opening scenes of  Belgian detective  Hercule Poirot being blood-splattered by a suicide to witnessing a stoning of an unfaithful wife in Turkey, the adapted version is far more than an entertaining murder mystery. It is a chilling morality play. It’s a play against films like Twelve Angry Men with a twist.

The Suchet version plays far more on the American nature of the melting pot of train travelers on the Orient Express. As one who defends the justice system, Poirot becomes alarmed, then horrified by the story’s unraveled mystery.

You won’t find the big names of the Albert Finney-Poirot movie. Here you will find Barbara Hershey, Toby Jones, and Hugh Bonneville, if you like name stars, but actors like Brian J. Smith as the victim’s secretary carry a heavy load.

Poirot loses all faith in humanity, and Suchet’s suffering face drives home the horror. In fact, his mustache does not turn off at the ends as much as the earlier shows.

A new version is forthcoming, directed by Kenneth Branagh who plays a flinty version of Poirot, rather unfaithful to the novel. Branagh’s mustache of Poirot is deplorable!

In the protracted series, the Orient Express episode was from the 12th season when the Belgian sleuth seemed bereft of all hope, as if a lifetime of dealing with murder finally sapped him of purpose and optimism. The original tale took its core from the Lindbergh kidnapping case, but became something else in the hands of Dame Agatha.

This compelling little Suchet film is brilliant, but a cold indictment of cruel justice among civilized people. The stark white snow drifts that stall the train on its journey contrast with the dark inner lives of the passengers.

If you want escapist fare, turn to the Hollywood version of Christie’s Orient Express. If you want catharsis, turn to David Suchet’s incisive portrayal of despair.

 

This blog entry is another in a series on Agatha Christie.

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A Slight Rise above Mundane for Jack Ryan

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Branagh

Director and Archvillain Kenneth Branagh

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is some kind of Tom Clancy spinoff for a new movie series franchise. They managed to rope in Kenneth Branagh as both villain and director. And, that put this standard spy thriller into another realm.

Branagh, when he avoids updated Shakespeare, actually directs intriguing films that take tired, old genre action pictures and turns them interesting with minor details.

This film has traditional chase scenes and superfluous action to keep dullards awake. Heaven knows that the tale of a Russian economic czar with a drug problem is tiresome enough. You also have boring “suspense” with the hero downloading key information off computer systems all too easily hacked and onto his handy thumb drive. Oh, please.

In the hands of Branagh, the movie’s routine action may actually take second place to the deeper psychology of the characters and the use of literary detail in the most surprising of places. You hardly expect a discussion of Russian literature and Lermontov over dinner in one of these films.

Yet, Branagh also uses Kevin Costner and Chris Pine in mostly juxtapositions of their careers. Costner was Pine 30 years ago. And, Branagh loves old movies: this film features the voice of Barbara Stanwyk in Sorry, Wrong Number and Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby as glosses on the plot.

So, if you think you have seen this movie many times before, you could be taken aback by a few minor details that set the film apart from others it imitates. Two delightful scenes involve former ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Russian government official. He’s unbilled and almost unrecognized.

If this movie turns into a franchise foundation film (like Branagh’s version of the first Thor movie), you can count on the fact that nothing to follow will have the same level of delicious detail.

Clever Conundrums Beating the Detective in You

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

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OUR GANG: Branagh, Law, Caine, &  Pinter

We took in Sleuth again, not the Joe Mankiewicz film with Michael Caine, but the update by Kenneth Branagh with Michael Caine.

In an essential two-character entertaining play, Caine had the distinction of playing the younger role in the 1970s and the older role in 2007. He also had the dubious honor to costar with Margo Channing, perhaps the only actor to do that since 1950. Yes, she plays Andrew Wyke’s wife in the earlier version.

In the update, the role goes uncredited, but she may be the key to the mystery. Is she or isn’t she in on the double cross? As a matter of fact, after watching the film for perhaps the fourth time since it was released, we are still unsure who has been double-crossed by whom.

We do know there are losers among the characters, but the real winner is the audience. Branagh’s update includes all the technological marvels that a millionaire writer can put into his playpen house. Caine’s Wyke has an elaborate security system with cameras that nearly are as invasive as his wit.

Jude Law gives what must be his seminal performance as Milo Tindle, the hairdresser—or is he an actor? Is he really sleeping with Wyke’s wife or Wyke himself?

Caine’s diabolical character is a gameplayer with any number of propositions, not the least of which is to put the make on his wife’s lover. Whether Tindle is a bisexual gigolo or just a chameleon who loses more than he bargains for remains hidden between the witty lines of dialogue.

From the get-go, the glass of Scotch is waiting for Tindle, already poured even after Caine asks him what he wants to drink. From the opening volley, we knew we were in deep.

We leave it to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot fans to observe and to resolve the mystery. Indeed, we dare them.

What an enthralling mental exercise, featuring Anthony Shaffer’s brilliant play and Harold Pinter’s more brilliant screenplay. Pinter also has a cameo as an actor in one of Wyke’s mystery books that have been adapted for the screen.

It’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Absolutely delicious.