With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic version and the updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie. Today, the definitive Poirot takes it on, with a much more dour tone...
Agatha Christie's Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
dir: Philip Martin
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
Toby Jones as Samuel Ratchett
Eileen Atkins as Princess Dragomiroff
Hugh Bonneville as Masterman
Jessica Chastain as Mary Debenham
Marie-Josée Croze as Greta Ohlsson
Barbara Hershey as Mrs. Hubbard
Susanne Lothar as Hildegarde Schmidt
Joseph Mawle as Antonio Foscarelli
Dénis Menochet as Pierre Michel
David Morrissey as John Arbuthnot
Elena Satine as Countess Andrenyi
Brian J Smith as Hector MacQueen
Stanley Weber as Count Andrenyi
Serge Hazanavicius as Xavier Bouc
Samuel West as Dr. Constantine
Of course, the all-star cast they did line up was chiefly an ensemble of familiar British character actors: Eileen Atkins, pre-Downton Abbey Hugh Bonneville, Toby Jones, David Morrissey, Samuel West, etc. But true to the producers' word, there were some surprising faces: Haneke regular Susanne Lothar, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Marie-Josée Croze, Inglourious Basterds' Dénis Menochet, and of course, Academy Award-nominated star of Beaches and Hannah and Her Sisters Barbara Hershey. Taking on the crucial role of Mary Debenham was a young up-and-comer named Jessica Chastain, just one year before she found fame and an Oscar nod of her own in 2011 with The Help, The Tree of Life, The Debt, Take Shelter, and Coriolanus (in which she co-starred with O.G. Mary Debenham Vanessa Redgrave).
But unlike the '74 original, the cast was not the selling point of this adaptation; nor was it the setting, as in the '01 TV movie. This time around, it was the original questions raised by Christie about justice: what is it? Who determines it? Can murder be justified?
Again, if you are somehow unfamiliar with the ending of Murder on the Orient Express, stop reading now....
The only reason the Belgian super sleuth is investigating at all is due to the train being snowbound; it is up to him to solve the case and present the solution to the police when they eventually arrive at the next station. When Poirot realizes that the motive behind the murder is retaliation for the victim's decades-earlier kidnapping and murder of a child, he sets to work laying traps for every possible suspect. Famously, every possible suspect is actually involved in the murder, part of a carefully-organized plot by people whose lives were forever disfigured by the deaths Ratchett left in his wake. This leaves Poirot with the choice to either blame the murder on some mysterious, fictional killer who got away (evidence of whom has been planted by the conspirators), or to present the actual facts and send the thirteen involved to jail.
Poirot was always reluctant, in both the book and subsequent adaptations. He has dedicated his life to upholding justice, no matter who the victim is. His moral righteousness in this regard isn't just his profession speaking, it's his faith. Though rarely, briefly explored in Christie's own writings, Poirot is a staunch Roman Catholic, and this adaptation emphasizes that fact frequently: Poirot praying before bed, Poirot connecting with the missionary Greta Ohlsson on a spiritual level, Poirot clutching a rosary in his hands as he agonizes over what solution to give to police. Murder is to be punished, yet this murder would not have occurred had justice been properly served in the first place. In the book, Christie is asking Poirot (and readers) to go against everything he's believed and espoused in the 14 years he's been published; in the TV movie, it's the people's Poirot of 21 years who is tasked with this decision.
Poirot sides with the conspirators, as he does in every version. But while the two previous adaptations follow that decision with a sigh of relief, this one ends with Poirot battling tears and his conscience as he walks away in the snow. There is no celebratory toast among the guilty, no catharsis. We are left to decide for ourselves if Poirot made the right choice. It is, without question, the bleakest Murder on the Orient Express to date.
Tomorrow, Japan takes five hours to tell the same story...and then some!
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