Basically: Kenneth Branagh wanted to make his own long episode of Poirot.
Murder on the Orient Express is the story of the World’s Greatest Detective, Hercule Poirot, who while on an impromptu train ride back to London meets an American, Mr. Ratchett, who is then killed overnight. Poirot now must figure out who of the many passengers on this train is a murderer.
Films like this are where Branagh, a veteran actor and director particularly of Shakespeare, utilizes his many skills as a filmmaker. Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted many times between film and television in different countries and the challenge is to make it his own, hopefully in different ways. One of the ways is how diverse this cast is compared to the many previous adaptations. The cast is overflowing with talent, to the point that some of the actors don’t get the opportunity to shine as much as others (and some chew the scenery). Branagh, always the actors’ director, indulges his cast in his role as Detective Poirot with his own scenery-chomping.
None of it is ever too much, though, most of it works well with this type of film. While Murder on the Orient Express is new and glossy, at its core it is a throwback with nostalgic feeling. The cinematography and framing of characters gives the viewer a strong sense of the golden age of film. The colors are also very bright, reminding us of Technicolor which gives the film the looks of grand paintings. This is also helped by the fantastic use of lighting, especially during close-ups and mid shots. Another great part of the film is the score, it really builds with the action but also mellows at the parts it should—conveying the emotion that a film score should.
About the cast, Kenneth Branagh seems to enjoy playing the smart and quite arrogant Poirot. He’s able to juggle the serious detective scenes along with the little blips of humor throughout. Josh Gad shows range that he’s usually not given the room to do in films. Michelle Pfeiffer is delightful as a talkative rich woman, Caroline Hubbard. The cast interacts more like a stage play than in other versions of the book. It gives a nice feel to see all the actors bounce off of each other and exaggerate just enough to fill out the characters and the drama.
In The End: Overall this version is a worthy remake and an enjoyable time at the cinema. The good news is, it’s becoming a winter franchise for the holiday movie season.