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NBooth

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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NBooth   

Well, this is actually happening. So I guess we should have a thread. Here's the trailer.

Not really impressed. Dench and Dafoe look good, but I don't get much of a sense of the flavor of this adaptation. And Branagh's Poirot--at least, in this little bit we see--is a failure on pretty much every level.

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Absolutely agree, from the mustache (and goatee!?) to the general air of him. Not Poirot at all, more a parody of Poirot. Considering how much Agatha Christie hated writing Poirot maybe she'd get a laugh out of it though. 

The rest seems pretty good, but this lives or dies on Branagh's performance and I'm already unimpressed.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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NBooth   

Christie was weird about Poirot: she hated writing him, but she also hated most portrayals of the character (which is one reason, iirc, that she consistently wrote him out of her own stage adaptations of her novels). OTOH, her one complaint about Finney was that he manifestly didn't have "the grandest mustaches in England"--actually, to my knowledge no Poirot adaptation has faithfully rendered Poirot's waxed magnificence as described in the books--so it's possible that Branagh would meet her approval on that score, at least.

On the other hand, looking at Branagh, it's pretty clear that there's a reason no one has done the facial hair as described.

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Rob Z   

Yeah, this was tough to watch.  It’s like they want to give Poirot the superhero treatment.  I consider myself a Poirot fan—I’ve read more than half of the novels/stories over the years, but mostly in middle and high school. David Suchet is the quintessential screen Poirot for me. I just realized something: I think I prefer TV Poirot adaptations to film ones is that the formulaic nature of the mystery plots is just better suited to a TV format.

Agreed that the accent, moustaches, persona, demeanor are all wrong. Main problem for me in the trailer, besides what we see/hear of Branagh’s Poirot, is narration by Poirot himself. I get that this is a trailer, but every bit of first person narration by the detective in these kinds of mysteries is like a stab wound to the story and the detective’s aura. And the camera giving us Poirot’s POV is twisting the knife. Presumably the film itself won’t go there? When there’s no Hastings to narrate, or no narrator character who is integral to the story, then we need third person.

This trailer seems way too self-aware, even self-congratulatory at its adaptation and star-filled cast. And the tagline “Everyone is a Suspect”—give me a break. This kind of cleverness might be good marketing—I don’t know—but it isn’t good for the story.

I think that adaptations of detective series this make a mistake when they get too hung up on physical appearance. I absolutely love Derek Jacobi’s Brother Cadfael, but he’s pretty different from the former Crusader in the books. Even a character like Sherlock Holmes, whose physical characteristics are important, has had a wide range of successful adaptations. Maybe it’s the worst though when a film tries hard but still gets it wrong.

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And yet Jeremy Brett by far is the best Sherlock Holmes for me simply because like David Suchet he focused so incredibly deeply on adopting even the tiniest mannerisms, wardrobe choice and facial ticks of Holmes. Of course for Brett this became an obsession that was unhealthy and resulted in him losing his mind a bit and finding an early grave.

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NBooth   
1 hour ago, Rob Z said:

Yeah, this was tough to watch.  It’s like they want to give Poirot the superhero treatment.  I consider myself a Poirot fan—I’ve read more than half of the novels/stories over the years, but mostly in middle and high school. David Suchet is the quintessential screen Poirot for me. I just realized something: I think I prefer TV Poirot adaptations to film ones is that the formulaic nature of the mystery plots is just better suited to a TV format.

Outside of a few flicks from the 1930s--and, arguably, not even then--the big screen hasn't been a particularly good place for classical detective fare. Generally they need to spice it up with action or psychology or camp in order to make it work. A straight-up, page-to-big-screen adaptation of just about any detective novel I can think of would be a disaster. And probably boring.

All exceptions (ahem, The Thin Man) admitted, of course.

1 hour ago, Rob Z said:

I think that adaptations of detective series this make a mistake when they get too hung up on physical appearance. I absolutely love Derek Jacobi’s Brother Cadfael, but he’s pretty different from the former Crusader in the books. Even a character like Sherlock Holmes, whose physical characteristics are important, has had a wide range of successful adaptations. Maybe it’s the worst though when a film tries hard but still gets it wrong.

It's really a matter of what features they take, right? And what kind of movie it is. Robert Downey, Jr's Holmes isn't at all what described on the page, but it doesn't matter for the kind of thing Ritchie is doing. To take a less controversial example, the Sam Spade described in The Maltese Falcon bears almost no resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. But it really doesn't matter, in the end, because of how well Bogart embodies something essential about the character. 

2 minutes ago, Justin Hanvey said:

And yet Jeremy Brett by far is the best Sherlock Holmes for me simply because like David Suchet he focused so incredibly deeply on adopting even the tiniest mannerisms, wardrobe choice and facial ticks of Holmes. Of course for Brett this became an obsession that was unhealthy and resulted in him losing his mind a bit and finding an early grave.

Well, Brett also struggled with bipolar disorder and was a heavy smoker, so there's probably a mass of things that went into his untimely demise. Then again, I've not read Bending the Willow, so I wouldn't want to say anything too dogmatically. Anyway, I'm not too sure he's all that faithful in the way you mean. A lot of the facial tics are inventions of Brett's, the mannerisms largely are--the voice, which is the real motor of Brett's performance, next to his catlike physicality, is nearly entirely him of necessity. Basically, Brett's performance is a magnetic blend of the Doylean text, the original illustrations, and large doses of Jeremy Brett (I suspect he drew heavily on Robert Stephens' performance in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as well). Not to mention how very dark the adventures get toward the end--Holmes himself becomes a much darker character, in part because of Brett's declining health and in part because that's how these things seem to go (see below).

Similarly, Suchet is definitely closer to the books than, say, Ustinov, but in key ways (the mustache, his level of English, which is sometimes far more garbled than anything Christie produced, his deep Catholicism as a motivating character trait as opposed to an offhand comment, etc etc etc) Suchet's Poirot is actually pretty far removed from the text. And his performance becomes darker toward the end than anything in Christie; the Suchet-Poirot of Murder on the Orient Express is a very different creature than the character who appears in the novel; he's more driven, more despairing. He cries.

None of this is bad, btw; it's even essential if we're to get an adaptation onscreen at all. One key factor in both of these performances (tying it back to the point above) is the fact that both are on television, and so have the benefit of developing over a period of time, from a surface-level putting-on of signifiers to a deeper sort of performance that doesn't depend so much on replicating tics. 

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Rob Z   
3 hours ago, Justin Hanvey said:

And yet Jeremy Brett by far is the best Sherlock Holmes for me simply because like David Suchet he focused so incredibly deeply on adopting even the tiniest mannerisms, wardrobe choice and facial ticks of Holmes. Of course for Brett this became an obsession that was unhealthy and resulted in him losing his mind a bit and finding an early grave.

Yes, Brett is the quintessential screen Holmes for me, too. Perhaps it does have something to do with the level of person investment the actor makes, but I don't know enough about most actors to stand by any kind of generalization. My point was just that this facet of the adaptation isn't the most important, and I stand by that.

2 hours ago, NBooth said:

Anyway, I'm not too sure he's all that faithful in the way you mean. A lot of the facial tics are inventions of Brett's, the mannerisms largely are--the voice, which is the real motor of Brett's performance, next to his catlike physicality, is nearly entirely him of necessity. Basically, Brett's performance is a magnetic blend of the Doylean text, the original illustrations, and large doses of Jeremy Brett

Well put.

2 hours ago, NBooth said:

Outside of a few flicks from the 1930s--and, arguably, not even then--the big screen hasn't been a particularly good place for classical detective fare. Generally they need to spice it up with action or psychology or camp in order to make it work. A straight-up, page-to-big-screen adaptation of just about any detective novel I can think of would be a disaster. And probably boring.

All exceptions (ahem, The Thin Man) admitted, of course.

 

3 hours ago, NBooth said:

None of this is bad, btw; it's even essential if we're to get an adaptation onscreen at all. One key factor in both of these performances (tying it back to the point above) is the fact that both are on television, and so have the benefit of developing over a period of time, from a surface-level putting-on of signifiers to a deeper sort of performance that doesn't depend so much on replicating tics. 

I'm sure someone has done some kind of formal analysis of this phenomenon we're noticing. I just don't know that much about adaptation theory or TV studies. I'm not much of a TV watcher in general either. I do like detective fiction though, in print or on screen.

2 hours ago, NBooth said:

It's really a matter of what features they take, right? And what kind of movie it is. Robert Downey, Jr's Holmes isn't at all what described on the page, but it doesn't matter for the kind of thing Ritchie is doing. To take a less controversial example, the Sam Spade described in The Maltese Falcon bears almost no resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. But it really doesn't matter, in the end, because of how well Bogart embodies something essential about the character. 

That's right. I had Robert Downey Jr. in mind. Yes, adaptation has a lot of room to draw on a character in print in creative ways that still pay homage. The key thing is  to avoid an ersatz version of the character that is "faithful" but in a derivative way.

3 hours ago, NBooth said:

Similarly, Suchet is definitely closer to the books than, say, Ustinov, but in key ways (the mustache, his level of English, which is sometimes far more garbled than anything Christie produced, his deep Catholicism as a motivating character trait as opposed to an offhand comment, etc etc etc) Suchet's Poirot is actually pretty far removed from the text. And his performance becomes darker toward the end than anything in Christie; the Suchet-Poirot of Murder on the Orient Express is a very different creature than the character who appears in the novel; he's more driven, more despairing. He cries.

You know, I think Suchet's Poirot goes beyond just being the best screen portrayal of the ones I've seen. I prefer his interpretation of the character to Christie's original. The books are still canon, of course, and that's no dis to the books. But Suchet's portrayal has superseded the textual character for me. And that's not because I saw the adaptations before reading the novels. I didn't, by and large. I'm so glad I read Murder on the Orient Express before I saw an adaptation! Still, Suchet's embodiment and development of Poirot, including what his interpretation adds to the textual character, to me feels essential to the character. Not so for Sherlock Holmes, though, or most literary protagonists. Doyle's stories (along with, I admit, the Strand illustrations) are where it's at for me.

 

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NBooth   

If I'm not mistaken, this just opened in China, so I'll be seeing it on Monday.

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NBooth   

I'm going to try to come up with something long-form about this movie, but for now: this is a film that benefits *tremendously* from lowered expectations. 

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NBooth   

Here's my piece on MOTOE, which is really about Branagh's Poirot

One thing I didn't get a chance to explore was the way in which, like the most recent MAGNIFICENT SEVEN remake, this movie shifts the races of several characters and attempts to use that shift to comment on contemporary racial anxieties. The problem, of course, is that the generic demands of the detective story are different, so it's hard to pull off what MAG7 did. 

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57 minutes ago, NBooth said:

And here's the companion piece - a more general review of the film - I got to publish along with NBooth's look at Poirot:

Quote

The heart of the movie lies in the morality of murder, the damage a murder leaves behind on all the victim’s loved ones, and the question of where a person’s moral breaking point lies. Can murder ever be moral? Can revenge ever be justified? And can murder ever bring peace?

 

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