By Jenny Rollins
BU News Service
In a culture of remakes, reunions and recycled ideas, “Murder on the Orient Express” is just another overdone retelling of a classic.
The current movie-making process has come down to a formula: take a successful old story, find the prettiest collection of actors to star in it, make it culturally relevant and add as much flash as possible. But the product is always exceptional. “Murder on the Orient Express” is breathtaking in its extra-ness.
Even the crime scene is shot so perfectly, the viewer can see every detail, from the pipe cleaner on the floor to Poirot’s perfectly parted hair.
The costumes were lovely down to every tiny detail and Kenneth Branagh is one of the most talented actors, directors, producers and screenwriters of all time.
Every shot of the train winding its way through the snowy mountains is so stunning, it’s unreal. But that is a lot of the problem.
Anyone familiar with the brilliance of Agatha Christie and her famous Poirot knows that she keeps details from the audience, making it impossible for them to play detective alongside the brilliant Belgian. Out of nowhere, Poirot uses specific background information that only he has to solve the crime at the last minute. In that way, “Murder on the Orient Express” was already set up to be elitist.
However, this new version of the story (just like every other recycled story) adds in guns, violence, sexual themes and racial tension to an already endearingly overdramatic story.
The points where the movie deviates from the text are significant. Even within the first 15 minutes, the movie opens with Hercule Poirot, in all his eccentric glory, solving an unsolvable crime with one tiny crack in a wall and perfectly predicting the criminal’s escape.
He seems less like “the sort of little man one could never take seriously,” and more like an eccentric, mustachioed psychic who doesn’t even need to read telegrams to know what they say.
Mr. Buoc, who is supposed to be a respectable Belgian, is introduced with a prostitute on his arm. Rather than just finding a bloody knife, Michelle Pfeifer’s black widow is stabbed.
Although there is a fair amount of unchecked racism in the original text, the film replaced an Italian with a Cuban immigrant—now a proud American citizen—and a tan British colonel with a black medical doctor played by Leslie Odom Jr.
These character choices changed the racial conversation of the story. A seemingly German professor, originally written as American, uses racial slurs about Odom’s character. The American Hector MacQueen claims to have nothing against a man because of his race, but suggests that the detective check out the Cuban immigrant.
This racial commentary seems rather forcibly placed within the film, as it was not part of the original context. This makes it seem more like an ornament to add to the glitz and glam rather than a serious topic of conversation.
In the end, Poirot solves the crime in a cave during a blizzard with perfectly windswept hair and ignoring an untreated gunshot wound, which is a pretty good example of just how excessive and histrionic “Murder on the Orient Express” is.