If you read my piece about my concerns over the show Riverdale, you’ll know that I take adaptations of cherished pieces of entertainment very (too?) seriously. It should come as no surprise, then, that I have some concerns about the new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express that comes out on November 10th. Agatha Christie, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, is one of my favorite authors, and I can confidently say that I’ve read most of her mysteries. Last semester, I wrote my term paper for my senior seminar in English on Murder on the Orient Express and how it deals with issues of justice and morality. I find the story fascinating and engaging, and evidently it still holds sway over a number of powerful entertainment-makers’ imaginations.
One of the arguments against the new adaptation is that there have been several in the past, including a very fine episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot (available on Netflix) that is well acted, faithful to the original, and also adds more depth to Poirot’s character. Kenneth Branagh didn’t exactly need to make this project, though considering his extremely high self-regard, he will probably make an excellent Hercule Poirot, known in the books for being vain and self-absorbed. I actually am pleased with most of the cast, which includes Leslie Odom Jr. (of Hamilton fame), Penélope Cruz, and Josh Gad. In fact, the trailer intrigued me to the point where, until recently, I was quite excited to see it. There is one person, however, whose inclusion and role in the film, combined with recent events have become a major sticking point for me: Johnny Depp.
For most of my life Johnny Depp was a neutral to positive presence in my consumption of entertainment. Then in 2016, when he and Amber Heard were going through a divorce, her allegations of domestic violence against him came out. While many called her a liar, despite the preponderance of evidence, I do believe her. This belief in Depp’s history of violence has made me extremely uneasy and somewhat unwilling to give my money and attention to a film that puts him in an important role.
Now that role, Samuel Ratchett, is an interesting one, because the character is (unless the screenwriters have completely changed the story) *slight spoiler* both the murder victim and the true villain of the story. Ratchett turns out to be the head of a kidnapping/murder ring who has kidnapped children, extorted money from their parents, and then killed the children after taking the money. Now, we aren’t supposed to like Ratchett at all (in the book he’s described as a despicable person from the beginning), but I have trouble with the idea that I’m supposed to enjoy the spectacle of an abusive person playing an even more abusive and horrible person.
When I saw Blade Runner 2049 (an otherwise pretty good movie) the scene where *slight spoiler* Jared Leto’s character stabs a female replicant (engineered human, sort of a robot but more organic) in the uterus dismayed and kind of angered me. The scene felt unnecessary to begin with, and that, coupled with knowing Leto’s unsavory reputation, made me dislike it even more and frankly dampened my enjoyment of the movie as a whole.
I anticipate a similar experience with this movie. While I haven’t seen more than the first trailer, the poster features Depp quite prominently and makes him look rather glamorous and dashing, which makes me uncomfortable. I don’t think you can fully separate the art from the artist. This is a subject that could be drawn out much more fully in another article, and perhaps I will write that article one day, but for the purposes of this one it means that I won’t be able to see the film, if I choose to do so, without the thought, whenever I see Depp onscreen, that “this is an actor who is a Bad Guy.” I also don’t like the idea that, by paying to see the movie, I’d be supporting people who rewarded an abuser, even if I’m not putting money directly into Depp’s pockets. But Depp isn’t the only actor in the movie and, as I said before, I am interested in many other elements that I know of. I just don’t know if I can, or if I should, get past this issue.