Saturday, November 11, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

After watching all 70 episodes of British ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot, I thought no one else could ever do the character of detective Hercule Poirot as well as actor David Suchet did. I was mistaken.

For my birthday, I treated myself to an opening day viewing of Twentieth Century Fox's Murder on the Orient Express. About the movie in general, I'd say its only weakness is that for many of us, the reveal of the murderer is no surprise because we already know the story. Otherwise, this was a remake worth doing and seeing. The acting is all-around as first class as the accommodations on the eponymous train, which is no surprise considering the A-list cast.

But let me focus on the portrayal of detective Hercule Poirot by also-director Kenneth Branagh. My introduction to Branagh was as Professor Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I didn't again encounter him until I started watching the British TV series Wallander, where he plays Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander. In Chamber, he played a foppish buffoon. Wallander was where I first got to see him in a strictly dramatic role. In that show, he plays a police detective who is deeply affected by the suffering he encounters in his work. He is tired, and from time to time his beliefs are challenged.

Branagh is on the mark when he brings both those traits of Wallander to his version of Poirot. At the start of Orient Express, Poirot is already weary from all the evil and injustice he has encountered through his work and is on a much needed holiday. Poirot, too, will see his beliefs challenged by the case.

But Poirot is not a totally dramatic role. He is far more than persnickety and an outright pompous ass. Even author Christie came to dislike the character (but since fans adored him, she continued to write stories with him). Branagh brings wonderful comic acting to the role. Like Suchet, his Poirot is deserving of both respect and derision.

One detail I feel compelled to mention is the vast difference between the mustaches of Branagh's and Suchet's Poirots. Suchet's has a slim, almost dainty one, while Branagh's is a wide, thick, handlebar of one. But both Poirots are proud of their mustaches and groom them obsessively. Branagh's Poirot even sleeps with a protective guard on his upper-lip hair. When I first saw Branagh's mustache in a trailer, I thought it was wrong for the role, but when watching the film, I quickly changed my mind.

So, even if you thought Suchet was the only one who could do proper justice to the role of Poirot, I think you, like me, will be pleasantly disabused of the notion.

I look forward to the eventual DVD/Blu-Ray release of this movie because I will want to watch it over again. Oh, and some brief dialog at the end of Orient Express suggests Branagh may follow up with a film version of Death on the Nile.