Here is one of the unexpected things in 2017 cinema: Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie making a resurgence. It's the old "whodunit" tale--somebody is murdered, and a famous detective has to solve the case. I guess Hollywood decided it was okay to try something else in that department since recent adaptions of Sherlock Holmes in cinema and TV have been going quite well.
Here's the thing about these kind of "whodunit" tales, though. You have to make them stand out in one way or another, because the same old "murder mystery" routine can get old after a while. There are two ways to do this--make the main characters/actors stand out (as has happened in recent adaptions of Sherlock), or have an unusual twist to your murder mystery. The film had the opportunity to do both given the source material and the cast. The results are a little mixed, however.
If one is not familiar with the "Murder on the Orient Express" tale, then there is little that can be said without spoiling one of the most famous murder mystery plot twists of all time. Basically, a businessman is murdered on a train and Poirot, one of Agatha Christie's two mainstay detectives, has to solve a case in which clues and suspects abound.
Here's the deal with this movie. It's nearly impossible to ruin the twist that the book is known for. However, everything else can be up for grabs. This film deviates from the source material a little bit in other ways (non-critical ways, mind you); a couple of which are not very effective. Namely, the decision to throw in a couple action sequences with Poirot. These just do not work; Poirot is by no means an action hero here. And these scenes just are not that overly exciting.
Also, there is a mysterious lost love interest we are shown in a photo from Poirot's past *three times.* And they never even attempt to explain that. Further on, the ending itself (after the big twist) has a slight change of its own; it may not seem like much, but if you still remember either the book or the 1974 movie (or you have your memory refreshed, like I did), it's a strange change to what character makes what decisions. Finally, there's the portrayal of Poirot himself. While most of the cast is excellent (more on that later), Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Poirot is a little mixed. While he definitely has his moments, there are also times when he seems like he's trying too hard.
So what works? Well, this is still an excellent and rather different tale. The plot twist is still a big one, and the ending (though it may be alarming to some) is still very different and more thoughtful than normal in its genre. And there is a very strong cast in here. This includes Branagh himself (despite his mixed performance), Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, and Penelope Cruz. Michelle Pfeiffer and Josh Gad are also pleasant surprises; I was a little skeptical on those two castings (particularly Gad, because of Frozen) but they both did well.
Even with certain flaws, it's still kind of hard to go wrong with a tale that good and with a cast that good as well. One can't really shake the feeling that it could have been better, but it's still a decent time. The fact that few movies like this exist might be an attracting factor for some. I'm not sure how a proposed sequel with another Poirot mystery may go (since Orient Express is pretty much the pinnacle), but we'll see.