For some time now David Suchet has been playing Agatha Christie's most famous (and eccentric) detective, Hercule Poirot. Along the way he has actually revisited several tales that had been filmed previously--The ABC Murders (in which Tony Randall played the great detective) as well as Evil Under the Sun and Death on the Nile (starring Peter Ustinov). Now a new version of what is arguably Dame Agatha's most famous mystery--Murder on the Orient Express. No small feat, given the reputation of the star-studded first version, with such luminaries as Albert Finney, Lauren Becall, Ingrid Bergman and John Gielgud.
This version, like many of the current versions, takes a different direction than previous ones. One trope common to most Christie adaptations is shredded away almost instantly. Like a real train, this Orient Express is in fact crowded. Trapped in a snow drift, they lose power and passengers are soon huddling together for warmth, visible only by candlelight. The comfort of these drawing room murder mysteries is gone--bringing into sharp relief the emotional turmoil inherent in the tale. Not merely for witnesses, but for Poirot himself!
Jessica Chastain). Before the train departs, Poirot and she are both witness to a terrible sight--a man leading a crowd to chase down, then stone to death his wife whom he claims to having been unfaithful. Poirot, having just left a case wherein a man committed suicide after having been proven a liar (he panicked when someone he knew was killed in an accident) agrees this was "unpleasant" but also "she knew the rules." Miss Debanham sees further, that even if guilty that poor woman killed no one. How could that have been justice? Later in the story Poirot also meets Greta Ohlsson, who is his own morality taken to extremes. Slightly unstable, clearly traumatized, she proclaims Catholic doctrine wrong with its redemption and forgiveness--there are some crimes, she insists, God CANNOT forgive. And top of the list she puts violence against children.
Poirot's own Catholicism is on display in this film. Interestingly, he prays at the same time as does the victim. The Detective utters some homilies which seem sincere, while Ratchet/Cassetti almost weeps--but with more fear than contrition. Or so it seems.
In the most famous film of this story, Poirot is troubled enough to let someone else make the decision. But in this version, allowing anyone else to do that is unthinkable. He will either tell the authorities the truth, or go along with the lie--and that he even considers the latter hits him like an earthquake. The straightforward, even ruthless man who begins this journey to Paris is not quite the same person who emerges from Orient Express a few days later. And he knows it. We can see it in his haunted eyes.
Just as we can see her knowledge that they have done this to him in the gaze of Miss Debanham.