Agatha Christie’s novel “Murder On The Orient Express” has been filmed a couple times before — most famously in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 Oscar winner — but none as emotionally affecting as this recent episode from PBS’ “Poirot” series starring David Suchet as detective Hercule Poirot.
The story remains the same: Called back home to London, Poirot boards the train of the title, aboard which is a shady American (aren’t we all?) businessman (Toby Jones) who fears for his life. He offers Poirot a stack of bills to protect him on the trip, but Poirot refuses. He doubles the stack, and Poirot still says no.
Turns out the wealthy man had damn good reason to be scared, because in the night, he is murdered. Examining the body, Poirot notes the body was stabbed exactly 12 times — some from the right, some from the left, some weak, some strong.
With the train stuck in the Serbian snow, our detective has plenty of time to determine the killer’s identity (among the passengers are Barbara Hershey and Eileen Atkins). By sticking closely to investigative methods as outlined by Christie, this 90-minute presentation is an excellent whodunit.
Philip Martin directs with an understated, classy touch, and an eye that focuses on Poirot’s exacting tendencies and adherence to ritual. And Suchet is Poirot, delivering the definitive portrayal of the crime-fic icon. His tiny mustache is stuck in a perpetual frown — all the better to match his mouth, which I think I caught in a semi-smile only once.
The work’s unfaithful to Christie only by introduction of a morality/religious theme that questions right vs. wrong. However, it fits, and leads to an ending that is startlingly good, and a triumph of acting for Suchet.
Aided by a marvelous score by Christian Henson, Alan Almond’s snow-flecked cinematography looks splendid on Blu-ray, as expected. Acorn Media’s disc includes some text-based features, plus a near-hour travel documentary on the real-life Orient Express, hosted by the out-of-character but very much in-tune Suchet. —Rod Lott