Thursday, March 07, 2019
The ABC Murders (2018)
Who's in it?: John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly, The Man in the Iron Mask, Jonah Hex), Rupert Grint (the Harry Potter movies), and Shirley Henderson (Rob Roy, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
What's it about?: A serial killer taunts aging Hercule Poirot into coming out of retirement and braving nationalistic bigotry to solve murders in post-WWI England.
How is it?: It's a great mystery, because c'mon, Agatha Christie. But Malkovich is sadly not a good Poirot. I've been reading the first couple of Poirot novels since re-falling in love with the character thanks to Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express. So I've got a definite vision of who Poirot is and what he looks and acts like. Malkovich isn't him. His mustache is absolutely mundane and he doesn't fuss over his appearance at all. His beard lacks symmetry, which wouldn't be a problem for any other character, but it's unimaginable for Poirot.
And then there's the detective's grumpy, depressed personality. That's a script problem, but still an issue. The adaptation is eager to be relevant and includes a subplot about English nationalism and a distrust of foreigners. Poirot has always been an outsider to English society, but the literary version handles that status with humor, grace, and a great deal of pride. Malkovich's Poirot has been worn down by it.
That's not the only change in the character, either. The mini-series questions the traditional narrative that Poirot was a Belgian police officer before coming to England to do private detective work. It builds a new, cynical backstory for the character that I found unnecessary. And that's the heart of my problem with The ABC Murders. Poirot is shoved sideways into an adaptation that's desperate to be relevant and unashamed about changing the character to support the themes. In my opinion, if you have an established character who's at odds with the theme of your story, it's the theme that needs reworking, not the character.
Bonus points for Rupert Grint as the lead police detective though. I always enjoy seeing him.
Rating: Three out of five little grey cells.
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I agree with your reservations concerning this production; it struck me while watching that it was arguably more Thomas Harris than Agatha Christie (especially in terms of the lead detective).
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