You Poirot fans will be interested in this next one — perhaps only to avoid it.
Amazon Prime Video produced a three-part series with John Malkovich as Poirot: The ABC Murders.
I don’t recall if David Suchet ever did this one or if the ABC Murders is official Agatha Christie canon. Whatever the case may be, the plot is often as horrid as one of Christie’s.
Malkovich may seem a strange choice to play Poirot. He is. He seems to be demonstrating a a new form of method acting that I’ve seen several times before. Call it the “low emote” method whereby the actor’s somewhat comatose demeanor, I guess, is supposed to evoke a “still waters run deep” kind of atmosphere. But it just looks like they couldn’t be bothered.
Malkovich has adopted this approach with Poirot. Don’t worry about critiquing this from a purest’s perspective. This is a detective who is called “Poirot” but who could have been (if you like Malkovich’s approach) a completely legitimate detective in its own right. But he has little to do with Poirot but the name.
That said, this is a visually rich series. Common to today’s troubled artists and creative types, it clearly values style over substance. Or, I think more accurately, style is substance. This is a wonderfully filmed series. It’s rich to look at. And if you can accept Malkovich as Poirot’s third cousin, twice removed, it’s not all that bad until it get to the last half of the third episode (where all kinds of Christie-like nonsense explodes the plot into a farce).
Up until then it’s about a serial killer who is also a traveling salesman for lady’s stockings. A troubled man — one who undergoes periods of memory loss and apparent epilepsy — is plying his trade which gives him access to beautiful women.
Poirot, in the meantime (a horrible plot gimmick that never pays off or makes any sense), is getting tons of letters from this “ABC” killer who is killing people first in a city starting with “A” and someone whose initials are “AA.” Then a city starting with a “B” and the victim having the initials of “BB.” Etc. Again, you get to the end of this, and nothing about this comes together or makes much sense. But this is very typical of a Christie (or Christie-like) plot. So in that sense, it’s par for the course.
In a minor sense, Malkovich’s comatose portray of Poirot fits to a certain extent. We’ve seen similar themes in the later Suchet portrayals. Poirot is retired and somewhat without purpose. Inspector Japp has retired. The new crop of detectives at Scotland Yard all hate Poirot and blame him for tainting Japp’s reputation (at least in this Poirot universe). Okay…plausible.
Poirot keeps getting these letters from the ABC killer and gets drawn into it, interacting with Japp’s highly confrontational successor, Inspector Crome, played rather one-dimensionally (but forcefully) by Rupert Grint. He gets better as this goes along when he eventually figures out that Poirot is not such a dummy.
The one major departure (besides the goatee) is that (spoiler alert….but, again, this bolted-on element at the end has no pay-off value) Poirot (as Crome and others at Scotland Yard suspect) was never on the Belgian police force. Instead, in several flashback scenes, we see that he is a priest.
The top-rate production values and the very much Christie-like dislikable gentry who come into and out of this make the first two-and-a-half episodes worth watching. And then if you’ve gone that far, you just have to grin and bare the stupid ending.