A Movie for People Who Are Not Idiots

Are you tired of movies with dialogue like “Yeeeowp!” and “Aaaaagh!”? Are you tired of movies focused on bodies flying through the air, improbable people having sex, and protagonists who act like they’re about 12 years old and need a way-overdue trip to the woodshed?

Murder on the Orient Express, vintage 2010, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot (made for British TV as part of the mostly excellent Agatha Christie’s Poirot series) raises sharp moral questions and leaves it up to you to answer them. You won’t be able to play if you watch The Kardashians and spend a lot of time with video games.

To set it up for you: a cruel and notoriously heinous crime is committed; and because the undoubted perpetrator knows how to rig a corrupt court system, he is acquitted in a sham of a trial and he walks free–leaving a trail of death and sorrow in his wake. He has wiped out a whole family of innocent people, and the law can’t touch him anymore.

Under the circumstances, is anyone justified in taking the law into his own hands and rubbing out this unpunished villain? The problem is not as easy as it sounds.

As Agatha Christie wrote it, Murder on the Orient Express was one of her best and most popular books. But egged on by David Suchet–he’d only been playing Poirot for 20 years, and was the Christie family’s original choice for the part–screenwriter Stewart Harcourt takes the story to a higher level still.

The 1974 film version, with Albert Finney as Poirot, focused on the glamorous passengers on the Orient Express. This version locks into the spiritual conflict in Poirot himself.

For those who complain about “that religion stuff” being injected into the story–well, every dedicated reader of Agatha Christie knows that Hercule Poirot is a devout Catholic. Christie seldom showed this side of him, but she let you know it was there. Suchet’s idea was to make it visible. By doing so, the story rises above the “interesting puzzle” category to challenge the viewer morally.

The whole cast is excellent, the background music is brooding and sinister, and the snowbound train makes an excellent venue for claustrophobic camera angles. Even if you already know the story, you’ve never known it quite like this.

I think Christie would have approved of the changes made to her plot. If there ever was an author who believed in the spiritual dimension of human life, it was Dame Agatha.

You can order this gem from amazon.com, or subscribe to Acorn TV and watch the whole series (and then some) on line.

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