Book vs Movie: Murder on the Orient Express

Alright, y’all! You know what time it is… It’s clobberin’ time!

Okay okay, the movie really wasn’t that bad. Actually, I really enjoyed it. I just think it was very different from the book.

So here’s how this all went down: I was super excited for Murder on the Orient Express the movie, and as you know from my previous blog on the book, I had never read any of the Agatha Christie novels before, but I was fairly well-versed in Hercule Poirot movies thanks to my wonderful parents (hi guys!). But when I heard they were making a new movie with Kenneth Branaugh as Poirot, I was really excited.

Naturally, I saw the movie at the theatre and I was…. underwhelmed. Not because it wasn’t a good movie, but because I didn’t think they got Poirot quite right. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’d like to mention the three biggest highlights for me in this movie:

 

  1. The visuals are stunning! For a story about being stuck on a train, this movie did not at all feel claustrophobic, which is a huge feat in my opinion. They had interesting camera angles and they managed to get a whole bunch of really wide beautiful landscape shots.
  2. The acting was great. I think that some of the actors (*cough cough* Michelle Pfeiffer) maybe overacted in some parts. Not to be confused with over-reacting. But overall, the acting was fantastic.
  3. This is more of a sub-note, but Johnny Depp was amazing in this. His portrayal of a bad guy was spot on, and I was genuinely creeped out by his performance as Casetti, which is exactly how I felt about his character while reading the story. Fantastic job on his part!

**Note: I’m not adding anything here with spoilers, I will only add something within the plot that happens, but does not play a role in the ending of the story whatsoever**

Now, let’s get to the dicey bits.

To start, there were some plot points that were not at all in the story that I understood why they were there, but felt either could have been placed better or left out completely. I’ll provide you with

 

two examples because these were the things that bugged me the most:

  1. Problems with Prejudice

It’s made pretty clear in the original story that prejudice plays a role on the train. There is an Italian man, Antonio Foscarelli, that M. Bouc consistently tries to get Poirot to believe is the murderer due to his own personal prejudices towards Italians. M. Bouc is also not the only one who has prejudices in the story – a lot of the British people and Americans have backwards ideas about one another.

However, all of these prejudices are about ethnicity, not race. In this movie not only is Colonel Arbuthnot portrayed by a black man, Leslie Odom Jr. (who is a fantastic singer, by the way; he played Aaron Burr in the original Hamilton on

 

Broadway, and really blew me away in this with his on-screen acting chops), but the Italian has been replaced with its Cuban counterpart, Biniamino Marquez.

So I have some issues with this. I mentioned earlier that there were things I think shouldn’t have been there in the first place and things that should have been arranged differently. I think this should have been arranged differently.

For instance, I completely understand that when this story came out (1934) immigration prejudices were far more talked about than those of race – that was always pretty hushed up around white people. Thus, it makes a lot of sense that the man called “The Italian” in the story would be very stereotypical, and not trusted by M. Bouc and others on the train. I also fully comprehend that we don’t have these specific prejudices in our current society. I am sure there are some who do, but for the most part that is not the focus.

The focus at the present is racial, not ethnic. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to have someone take Foscarelli’s place to make it more topical. That is where Biniamino

 

Marquez comes in. Given our immigration issues currently, it would make a lot of sense to switch that prejudice from Italian to Hispanic. WHY DIDN’T THEY?

Instead of taking the smallest, but most effective action, they switched the story entirely and made Colonel Arbuthnot African-American, and made the prejudices about his skin color.

Here’s why that upsets me (and keep in mind that in this story, every person on the train has some connection with the Daisy Armstrong murder [a play on the Lindbergh trial] two years previously *not a spoiler*): This story takes place after WWI. Historically speaking, African-Americans were in their own regiments, and did not fight alongside white men, let alone well-to-do, influential white men. Historically speaking, it makes absolutely no sense that the Colonel would have been anywhere near Mr. Armstrong enough to have made a deep friendship with him in the war… Actually, it doesn’t make sense for them to have any connection at all in battle!

So here’s the thing, I understand that currently in America we need to have a very serious talk about the racial violence and prejudice going on. We need to figure that stuff out, and we need to have an open dialogue. I want to make that clear. My issues here are not prejudicial, they’re historical.

Now, I am not at all a “purist” – I don’t believe that every literary work when put onto the big screen needs to be exact. However, it’s important to keep the context of the story as close as possible so it doesn’t lose the overall atmosphere of the original story. In keeping the time period (1930s) but making the prejudice about the Colonel and not about the Italian (or Cuban in this case), the historical context is lost.

Granted, that’s my opinion. I feel like while it’s important to have a discussion about race in our current society, it cannot be done the way this movie wanted to do it. With keeping the time period, there is no logical way that a Colonel in WWI (or any war at the time) would have been seated alongside any African-American in equality. That would not have happened, and that really bugged me throughout the movie since they tried to keep the rest of the story historically accurate except that one piece.

What would I do differently, you ask? I think it would have made more sense to keep Colonel Arbuthnot a white man, but make the counterpart to Foscarelli (who was just a regular guy and not in the armed forces) a black man or a Cuban man, which would have aligned more accurately with the prejudices of the time.

2. Poirot’s…. Issues

Alas we come to the thing that needed to change completely: Poirot, himself.

Look, he really wasn’t that bad. He just wasn’t Poirot. What I mean is that as a detective – just a regular ol’ Belgian detective – he’s great. But as POIROT, he misses the mark.

First of all, in the movie – the very first scene of the movie, mind you – Poirot keeps sending back a poor little boy who needs to find two PERFECTLY sized eggs in order for Poirot to have his breakfast. Poirot even has a little measuring tape. In what world would Poirot ever send anything back? His manners completely forbid him to do such a thing, he would rather just sit there and be polite to a fault than send something back, especially that many times. To set the air with that first shot just threw me for a loop because it was so uncharacteristic of Poirot and it was the very first thing you see him do. Hrmph!

Then, there’s the matter of his OCD. The movie makes a big deal about Poirot being OCD to the point that they try to imply that for him, his idea that there is only right or wrong in the world is sprung on by his OCD tendencies of having a right way of doing something and a wrong way, and not a matter of his “little grey cells” that the Poirot stories general imply.

The “cells” by the way are basically a way of saying that it’s in Poirot’s DNA to understand that which others cannot in a murder case. Whereas in the movie, the writing makes it sound like he only sees things because his brain – his obsessive compulsive thoughts – are what allows him to be a good detective. While it may seem like a minuscule thing, to me it was a massive oversight. Or rather, not an oversight but a down-playing of Poirot’s natural abilities.

Finally, there is Poirot’s “heroism.” There’s a chase scene here. Poirot chases someone. A chase scene!! Poirot is supposed to be an older man, portly, gentleman in this series – how exactly do you expect Poirot to run? Because I can assure you it will mess up his mustache and if there’s one thing that you don’t mess up, it’s Poirot’s mustache! That’s all I’m going to say about that – just know that I was flabbergasted.

All in all, objectively this is a great movie. If I knew nothing about Poirot and just went in thinking that it was going to be a fun period-piece detective movie I think you’d come out of it really liking this movie. However, as someone who actually read and enjoyed the story and likes Poirot’s character in general, it was a little tougher to get really into it. Again, I also had a very hard time getting past the historical inaccuracies, which I just felt could have been handled in a more effective, less sloppy way.

But like I said, it’s still a really enjoyable movie. It has a lot of plot twists that you don’t see coming (a lot of which they added to this movie that wasn’t in the original story, but nevertheless was entertaining), the acting was great, and the cinematography was spectacular.

Not surprisingly, the book wins this battle once again!! However, while I think you should read the book, I really do urge you to see the movie as well because it really was a fun movie to watch and it’s not that long. If you have time I would say go see it or rent it at home when it comes out because it was very entertaining!

Well, that’s all folks! As always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below, or you can e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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Murder on the Orient Express Review

Holy crap! Two posts in just over two weeks? What is this, sorcery?!

Nope! Just little ol’ me, finally getting a little time to read for my own pleasure! So, what did I read you may ask? (Or you might not ask, since it’s the title of this blog…) Well, friends, I decided to go tried-and-true: Agatha Christie.

Hercule Poirot is easily one of my favorite personalities sprung from the world of fiction. Now I have a confession to make: I had never read any Agatha Christie story before this one. I know! I’m sorry, don’t crucify me! It actually occurred to me only recently that I hadn’t read any of the stories, but I have a (somewhat-)valid excuse:

My parents instilled in me a love of Poirot since I was a kid. I have seen all of the Peter Ustinov Poirot’s, and many others (but Ustinov is by far my favorite), and absolutely adore the character. So why did I never read the books? Well, that’s a question I asked myself two weeks ago.
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You see, I saw that there is going to be a new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, and immediately was ecstatic because, I mean… c’mon, it looks amazing. But then I was like, wait – have I never read any of the Poirot novels?? Well let’s change that.

So I took matters into my own hands. I bought several Poirot novels, only two of which I’ve seen in film version, including my all-time favorite Hercule Poirot story, Death on the Nile (Maggie Smith for the win!), and a copy of Murder on the Orient Express. Keep in mind, I have not seen these movies in years and couldn’t (still can’t) remember the majority of the murderers – only the plots, which means that I can enjoy the endings as intended!

For those who are unfamiliar with Agatha Christie, here’s a little somethin’ for ya: Christie is a wildly successful crime novelist and short story writer. In fact, she is so successful that she is the most published author, only being out-sold by the Bible and Shakespeare. She’s written over seventy novels, as well as short stories, plays, autobiographies, and romance novels. Most of her books are detective stories, and more than fifty of them include my dear Hercule Poirot, private investigator.

So, now that that’s cleared up: let’s hop to it! This story is the ultimate mind-fuck. I’m just putting it out there now. Obviously I’ll say now that there will be no spoilers in this article, because I’m not a monster. Here we go:

One: Plot

Okay, Christie has always been known for her amazing stories, that is no doubt. However, this story is incredibly intriguing. The story is obviously centered around Poirot, but the plot of the novel is this: On a train journey across the Orient, Poirot finds himself in a sleeping car with thirteen other passengers. Overnight the train is stopped by a huge snow storm and the train, and its passengers are stranded together. Come morning things get interesting – the wealthy Samuel Ratchett is found stabbed a dozen times in his compartment. Who committed the crime?

This is amazing for many reasons, but primarily because there’s just nothing like it. As far as murder mysteries go, it’s usually a man that gets poisoned in a mansion, or is shot in a small town and the place is in a frenzy trying to find the murderer. In this case, there are thirteen passengers, plus Poirot, and no one could have come on or off the train, leaving everyone in cramped quarters and high tension.

What a lovely setting!

Two: Writing Style

Christie’s writing style for Murder on the Orient Express is really nothing short of brilliant. It’s broken up into three parts: “The Facts,” “The Evidence,” and “Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks.” This is honestly the best possible way to construct this novel. The first part, “The Facts,” really just follows Poirot on his journey from one train to another across the Orient, up until just past the murder. The second part, “The Evidence,” meets with all of the individuals on the train and gets their testimonies/alibi’s. And finally, in part three, “Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks” about the information he has received and begins to piece together what really happens.

As someone new to the Christie writing genre, I was unsure at first what to expect in terms of writing flow, and difficulty in understanding the language of the 1930s. But I have to hand it to her, she writes a mean novel! The way she split it into three parts made it very easy to understand what was going on and how the characters each fit in to the plot. Sublime!

Three: Characters

It can be very difficult for an author to write this many novels with the same main character. As a writer myself, I can see how it would be strenuous to consistently come up with unique stories, and new unique characters. Now I understand that Christie got inspiration for this story from the true story of the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. However, she put a very imaginative spin on it, and made it so intriguing.

Each character gets their own aforementioned chapter, but it’s not without reason. Each person is telling Poirot where they were and what they were doing at the time of the murder, and each person has seemingly airtight alibis. Christie shows the difference between gender, classes, generations, and cultures, and seems to do it seamlessly, all the while still centering around our favorite investigator who always has the answers halfway through the plot but you’d never know it.

Honestly, I am so glad that I read this novel. I’m already reading another, and hopefully, if my workload doesn’t get too crazy, I’ll be able to write a review on that shortly. Obviously, I will be seeing the film version in theatre in November, and absolutely cannot wait! So I’ll definitely do a book vs. movie ASAP.

Hopefully y’all found this helpful if you were considering getting into Agatha Christie novels, and I find that this is a really great story to start with to get you used to the kind of language and detective style that Poirot has.

As always, if you have any comments or questions you can leave them below or you can shoot me an e-mail at rachel@booksandcleverness.com! I hope to hear from you all soon!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com