Ben’s Breakdown | “The A.B.C. Murders”

The movie opens in 1933 England, and a very enigmatic man has arrived at a boarding house on a business venture, only the business he’s engaged in does not appear to be all that respectable. Among his possessions is a book called “The ABC Railway Guide.” Just as he starts to type a very unusual letter we are introduced to someone who is something of a celebrity. Well at least he used to be during his younger days. Now he’s older and he has the appearance of being old and tired. He is, or rather was, the famous detective Hercule Poirot. He’s still Hercule, but now he’s just ordinary and fame has left him. We see him receive some letters, including the unusual letter that was typed to him earlier, and the letter is threatening. The writer of the letter describes himself as a “faceless beast, leading lambs to the slaughter.” He clearly has an interest in Poirot, but what that interest is seems unclear. He seeks out his old friend, the police chief with whom he solved many cases, but now his friend is also retired and in poor health. In fact he passes away while Poirot is visiting him. When Poirot tries to connect with the new police chief he is quickly, an angrily dismissed. It appears that the new chief police Chief, Crome,  finds Poirot to be something of a fraud.

The enigmatic man from earlier, who clearly appears to be the author of these typed letters, is trying to sell some product to a Mrs. Asher in Andover. Later Poirot receives a letter about this man being Andover, and when Poirot goes there he finds Mrs. Asher murdered and with a copy of “The ABC Railway Guide” next to her with it opened to the letter A.

Poirot can’t get anywhere at first with the police, even after another letter followed by the murder of Betty Barnard in Bexhill. Poirot tries to get through to the police after a third letter arrives clearly indicating that the next victim, and the location of that victim, will begin with the letter C, but Crome still won’t employ Poirot’s insights because he’s convinced that Poirot lied about his credentials, thus he cannot be trusted.

Can Poirot rise to the occasion in his old age and be the world-class detective once again so that he can put a stop to these murders?

The A.B.C. Murders is a 3 part movie series on Amazon Prime and was written by Agatha Christie, but do not resemble past works of hers on the surface. Instead of being a classic murder mystery, this one is also an examination into the character of Poirot. Not much is known about him before he came on the scene in his younger days as the brilliant detective, yet Crome has tapped into something by indicating a complete lack of any records of Poirot’s life prior to a specific year. Then there is the issue of Poirot himself. He’s much older and definitely more tired, and yet when he starts to investigate these murders he starts to find a pattern, and that connecting clue is himself, which only places a greater sense of burden on his shoulders. And because of Crome he is now dealing with a very private part of his past that he has apparently locked away in his psyche for many years. As for the story itself, Christie pulls some unusual surprises here, most notably in practically announcing who the murderer is. This is unheard of when compared to past works of hers, but again this story isn’t so much about who is the murderer, but rather about if Poirot can actually be the detective he needs to be, despite the challenges and opposition facing him, and find a way to both stop and solve these crimes.

The cast for these movies is really incredible. It’s not huge, but really strong, starting off with probably the most unlikely actor to ever take on the part of Poirot, that being John Malkovich. He’s developed a reputation for playing demonstratively quirky characters, but as an older Hercule Poirot he has to draw upon some delicate character subtleties in order to give him any kind of depth and believability. The surprise is how well Malkovich delivers those attributes. It is generally accepted that the finest portrayal of the famous Belgian detective was by David Suchet for the ITV series from 1989 to 2013, although it is said that Christie found Albert Finney’s performance to be the closet, despite his mustache not exactly looking as she imagined it to be. Now with Malkovich he truly comes off as some type of older extrapolation of either Suchet’s or Finney’s representation of Poirot, which makes Malkovich’s performance as cause for a reevaluation of the best Poirot performances out there.

Then there is Detective Crome as played by Rupert Grint. That poor actor has a lot of work in trying to shake his Ronald Weasley role that made him famous, and because we see so little of him early on it’s virtually impossible to not see Weasley every time Grint shows up, but by the time we start to get to the third of this three movie series we begin to see some real development to where we finally start to understand why Crome is the way he is. Grint never stops being true to the character, but does reveal a few more layers turning Crome from a character that no one liked into someone who is desperately wanting to live up to the reputation of his predecessor. Lastly there is Eamon Farren as Alexander Bonaparte Cust (ABC?), the gentleman of questionable intent. In typical Christie manner there is more going on than meets the eye, so Farren has to walk a tightrope when playing Cust in order for his character to not only string Poirot along, but to also keep the viewer on the hook as well, even when Cust starts to show things about himself that call of that into question.

The A.B.C. Murders does not have the cinematic elegance that either the original Murder On The Orient Express or Death On The Nile had. What this movie does have is an incredibly powerful cast that is used to deliver this story narrative. The story is very compelling, and even somewhat misleading. It does in its final reveal give us a tone that feels very familiar, almost as if it could be applied to a Sherlock Holmes story, but here is done in a manner that is terribly chilling as well as somewhat sad. In short, The A.B.C. Murders is a highly enjoyable mini-movie series that will hook and pull you in within the first few minutes of watching it.

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