Comments on Sonia Mitchell's Cakes on a Train

Kenneth Brannagh travels in style on the Orient Express.

Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 10:02 on 2018-01-09
Woo, welcome back Sonia! It's good to see you (er, read you) again.

Johnny Depp makes a suitably crawly businessman that it's easy to wish bad things upon.

Which, given what Amber Heard has told us over the past couple years, I suppose makes it an inspired casting choice in a deeply unfortunate way. :(

On the spoilery bits - spoiler-tagged for the benefit of folk who get comments via RSS:

I think part of the problem of contracting the first section of the story is that once it's become clear that there's an outright weird number of people with connections to the murder-kidnap on the train, the second mystery you identify stops being that mysterious. Maybe the actual process involved was obscured, but "group vigilante action" becomes the most plausible prospect at that point.

In the original book Christie had the advantage that readers had very specific expectations of this sort of detective story, which included the idea that there was one specific individual who did the deed. Raymond Chandler rages against the solution in The Simple Art of Murder precisely because he seems to feel that Christie has cheated in some respect; when he says "Only a halfwit could guess it" I think part of what he means is that the solution breaks the rules of the genre sufficiently seriously that it could only be guessed by someone who simply didn't grasp those rules in the first place.

Thing is, modern audiences are a bit more used to genre pieces which break major axioms of the genre in one way or another, so I suspect that these days if you give the audience time to think about it they'd arrive at the "collective effort" solution sooner or later. The only way to conserve the surprise at that point is to make sure the solution to part B comes hot on the heels of part A, so the audience either doesn't have time to arrive at the logical conclusion or the solution is provided soon enough after they've guess that they don't feel like the movie is taking them for fools.

So on that basis it's probably for the best that the movie is largely aimed at being a cozy piece for people who already have familiarity with the story, because structurally Brannagh's done the opposite of what he needed to do to make the whodunnit bits pop.
Sonia Mitchell at 20:10 on 2018-01-10
Thanks, Arthur. It’s been far too long.

The Johnny Depp think did occur to me. It’s a good performance but yeah.

I think you’re right about the structure of the mystery, although I first read the book so long ago it’s hard to evaluate it objectively. Christie was very good at hiding pertinent facts in plain sight, which is wisely not something Brannagh attempts. It’s much easier to hide things in text.

There were a few rumbles of surprise in the cinema, memorably when Mrs Hubbard revealed herself to be the avenging mother, but overall I think most of us were there to see a story we already knew.

Your Chandler quote reminds me of the end of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (spoiler):

”In the end I asked a child. I told him the story of the trick and asked him how he thought it had been done, and he said, and I quote, ‘It’s bleedin’ obvious, innit, he must’ve ‘ad a bleedin’ time machine.’”

It’s a very hard frame of mind to get into.
Robinson L at 20:00 on 2018-01-18
Great to see you back in action, Sonia. I’d like to comment on the article, but I haven’t seen the movie, and while I wouldn’t be against it, I have no particular desire to see it.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the stories that would be plausibly easy to have an all-white cast for, so it's good to see Leslie Odom Jr, a black man, playing one of the central characters. The opening scenes, too, feature a predominantly non-white Jerusalem which is by no means a given in these types of adaptations.

I’m sure I heard somewhere Brannagh has a history of hiring racially diverse casts. He was the director who gave us Idris Elba as Heimdall after all, and I think we can all agree the Thor films a stronger for it (despite some … questionable incidents towards the end of Ragnarok).

As long as we’re talking, Murder on the Orient Express, there’s an awesome in-joke in one of the later “Thursday Next” books by Jasper Fforde, where the main character is in the realm of fiction where all the characters from novels past and present live, and has to interrogate a yeti. Upon learning the main character’s a cop, the yeti exclaims, “I swear, I was nowhere near the Orient Express that night, and even if I was, I had nothing against Mr. Casetti (sp?)!” (paraphrased). Which if you’ve read the book is absolutely priceless.
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