Lawrence Olivier was an actor who delivered rewards, but acting is not storytelling and sometimes the opposite is the case. He made a well regarded Hamlet and approached it as expected; he inhabited the character and let that being drive what was presented. If only he understood confounding dynamic structure the author erected to allow us to have at each instant several beings inhabiting that soul. The beauty of the play is in how their layers, folds and governance stay always ahead of our ability to cleanly see the world’s edges.
Suchet has similar power over the detective he has played now for some time. He has inhabited the character and extended him far beyond what the author envisioned. Some of it is quite impressive and affords the intensity Suchet (or any actor) desires. But it fights the structure Christie mastered. It is a matter of personal discovery for me that I crave both Christie and Shakespeare. The former is about abstract purity, logical clarity where emotion is colour only. Shakespeare uses urge as his primary quality, where urges can be spiky or smokey, weaving and stinking. He conveys reason without logic, sense without cleanliness.
Christie’s villains are simply wicked. The story is a matter of presenting logical impossibilities and having our detective sort them so that they are physically possible. These are logic puzzles. The characters have emotions, colour even motive as a second order. Her attention was all in the form; she could have no suspect be the murderer, or all. The narrator could be, or the murdered themselves.
The more physically impossible, and the more unlikely the solution, the better. Like Holmes, Poirot would be far more interested in resolution than justice.
Most editions of this story have a diagram of the coach, showing who could see what and where anyone could move. Facts as they appeared and were reshaped were all done so in this physical context. The Sidney Lumet 1974 version preserved all this while adding enough colour to satisfy viewers who did not want to engage with the story, helping to sort the pieces.
This version has none of that detective folding, where we work with the detective. The impossibilities of the murder are largely omitted. The culpability of the porter is necessary here but ignored. One the other hand, we have three fine locomotives. I don’t know where they got that remarkable train, but it would be a great addition to any competent story.
And of course we have Suchet, who seems to be far ahead of all the other production assets in defining what the story is and what it is about. I am not a fan of the notion that each character has one primary urge and the bumping of these urges is what drama is about. No, that doesn’t work for me. But it is interesting to see the control he has, dragging all else behind to suit.
The big surprise for me: Jessica Chastain! What a presence, something between Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore and every bit as powerful. Suchet could take lessons; power is in what you give away to make your world work.
Posted in 2015
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.