Acorn Media // 2010 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 26th, 2010
Poirot searches for a killer on a snowbound train.
For mystery fans, Agatha Christie is almost inescapable (unless you live in an entirely hardboiled world). Although And Then There Were None has been adapted more times into more media, her most famous title is probably Murder on the Orient Express. Because of that, it's kind of surprising that it took until 2010 for the decades-long running ITV series Poirot to tackle that most famous of cases. Finally, tackle it they have, and this is not your parents' Murder on the Orient Express. A few small additions, a new focus on Poirot's Catholic faith, and a thematic concern with guilt and justice ensure that fans new and old can relish Poirot's latest mystery. However, some irregularities with Acorn Media's release schedule and the lack of knockout video on this Blu-ray make it hard to recommend to the faithful.
To avoid major spoilers, I'll give only the broadest outlines of the plot: the famous private detective (portrayed, as always, by David Suchet) is recalled to London after solving a case in Istanbul. This requires his booking a ticket on the Orient Express. When the train is delayed by snow and a fellow passenger is stabbed to death, Poirot is roped into solving the mystery. Naturally, everyone on the train is a suspect, and Poirot learns that all have some motive and little explanation is forthcoming. Of course this does not stop the famous Belgian sleuth. Like the train, he heads inexorably towards the culprit.
There are two primary reasons to watch any of the Poirot episodes: the mystery and David Suchet. In Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express, the mystery belongs to the highest reaches of Agatha Christie's considerable imagination. Some small changes have been made for this version, but the basics (a moving train murder and a dozen suspicious passengers) are unchanged. This time out, things get really, really heavy. Agatha Christie is not known for the depth and gravity of her plots, but rather the cleverness of her conceits. Murder on the Orient Express maintains that cleverness, but adds a layer of thematic depth. The film opens with a suicide; throughout, characters talk about God and morality. Poirot himself is wracked with doubt about his detecting, and this is an altogether darker version of the events than any previous adaptation.
David Suchet carries this darkness with ease, though. The show has emphasized Poirot's Catholicism for almost half its run now, and it's not a huge leap the gravity of this film. Suchet handles the film's darker aspects with ease, his self-doubt evident in the wrinkles around his eyes and the turn of his mouth. Much of his performance here seems silent and understated. Even his famous method of gathering together suspects to reveal the murderer is done quietly, with great dignity.
On Blu-ray, The Murder on the Orient Express looks good, but not great. The lavish interiors look the most impressive, followed by some fine facial detail. Grain and artifacts aren't a problem, but the film's use of darker interiors and shallower depth of field means there isn't much on the screen that's supposed to be sharp, so the HD resolution is a bit wasted. It's a step up from DVD, but not a leap. The DTS-HD audio track fares a little better, with the tense score getting especially strong presentation. Dialogue is kept balanced and audible throughout this stereo track. The lone extra is a 47-minute tour of the Orient Express hosted by David Suchet. It's a fun little documentary that gives some background on the famous train and how it fits into book and movie.
Although he wrote the seminal "superhero deconstruction," Watchmen, Alan Moore has more recently come out against the turn in superhero comics that made every crimefighter into a psychologically damaged loony in long underpants. I hope that detectives like Poirot don't suffer the same fate, becoming half-hard-boiled detectives who -- in addition to solving the mystery before tea time -- must also have the depth required to wrestle with grave issues of morality and guilt. In general I like the approach of Murder on the Orient Express, but I could easily see the slightly darker path this film takes leading to a bunch of strange films that lack the innocent charm of Christie's novels.
As for the Blu-ray, it's in an odd position. This film was released in July 2010 in the fifth Poirot set, despite the fact that two Poirot films made before it still have not seen release. The disc presented here is fine, but the upgrade in audiovisual quality is not huge, so fans who already own the older set probably shouldn't double dip.
Murder on the Orient Express is a solid entry into the Poirot canon. David Suchet is as charming as ever and the familiar mystery is put in a new light. For fans of British mystery, this one is at least worth a rental.
My little grey cells tell me that Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated