****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe
screenplay by Michael Green, based on the novel by Agatha Christie
directed by Kenneth Branagh
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. If he wants two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, they must be the same size or he can't eat them. It's how he is. He steps in shit and then has to step in it with his other foot so his feet don't feel uneven. He has an illness, some rage for order and symmetry, you see, and while it makes him alone and miserable (though not unpleasant), it also makes him the best detective in the world. Agatha Christie's enduring creation Hercule Poirot, when portrayed in the past by actors like David Suchet, Albert Finney, and, most famously, Peter Ustinov, has been a figure of some mirth: a cheery hedonist, someone at home in books by a legendary (and all-time best-selling) author mostly legendary for being an artifact of another generation. Christie's books were already growing elderly, I imagine, as they were being written. Her Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, has about it the musty upright fortitude of something from the 19th century. It should be no surprise that Kenneth Branagh, whose Shakespeare adaptations represent the first time I understood those plays completely (that "Hamlet" is a political drama, for instance, or that "Henry V" is a coming-of-age piece triggered in part by the tragedy of a mentor relationship long lamented), has interpreted Poirot as a man tortured by the chaos of modernity, and made him ultimately relatable not as a hedonist, but as a man who recognizes that the wellspring of great art is also the mother of justice. "I can only see the world as it should be... It makes most of life unbearable, but it is useful in the detection of crime." Teleos. Balance. And nothing in between.