Review: Death on the Nile
Arriving Friday is the slightly delayed, due to the pandemic, follow up from 2017's successful "Murder on the Orient Express." Kenneth Branagh returns both as director and to reprise his role as the world's best detective Poirot. The film is delayed enough that it features Armie Hammer, whose career has since been derailed by sexual assault claims and an embarrassing look into his sexual perversions. While this aspect is a bit distracting, there are other elements of the film that hurt it more. However, Branagh and company have mounted a Sunday matinee whodunnit that looks great and occasionally thrills.
It is strange to note that 1974's film adaptation of"Murder on the Orient Express" was followed up in 1979 by "Death on the Nile." Given the wealth of Agatha Christie novels out there, one hopes that if we see Poirot return, it will be a deeper cut. This lavish-looking adaption makes some changes to the source story so even if you are familiar with the lover's quarrels on a big boat in the Nile, you will find some new things here. The film is an improvement from Branagh's "Express." This is largely due to a good supporting cast and a more toned done lead performance by Branagh.
The film opens with a black and white flashback during WWI where we follow Poirot in war. This is essentially an origin story for the famous mustache that Poirot adorns. It also provides a tonal shift for the detective. Branagh wants to make him more of a tragic figure, haunted by love than the comic oddball that other outings have portrayed him as. It works for the most part since it tones down the scenery-chewing that Branagh has a tendency to do.
After the opening flashback, we are thrust forward to 1937 to a hopping London nightclub where celebrity heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) is asked by her friend Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) to give her new fiancée Simon (Hammer) a job. This leads to Linnet and Simon dancing and falling for each other. Cut to weeks later and it is them who are announcing their wedding, leaving Jacqueline scorned. The wedding is at a gorgeous Egyptian hotel. Poirot is enlisted to keep an eye on Jacqueline and make sure she doesn't do anything to disrupt the wedding. To get away from Jacqueline, Simon and Linnet move the wedding suddenly to a large boat. Trapped on the boat are a cast of characters and potential killers. There is Linnet's servant (Rose Leslie), her godmother and nurse (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), Linnet's ex (Russell Brand), her estate trustee (Ali Fazal), and a jazz performer and her niece (Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright).
While we wait far too long for the death in the film's title to happen, we are treated to some fantastic costumes and set design. Death on the Nile looks great most of the time. Occasionally there is some very dodgy green screen work where the lighting looks off but otherwise, there is plenty for your eyes to feast on. The supporting cast is all-around good but the real standout is newcomer Emma Mackey. She is often electric and has manic energy the rest of the film could use more of.
Death on the Nile takes far too long to get to the central murder and once it arrives, it is pretty easy to figure out. Branagh's directing style is a hodgepodge affair, sometimes seductive and sometimes melodramatic. As I mentioned before, most of the time the film looks impressive but occasionally it looks terrible thanks to the CGI. The thing that carries the film through these rough patches is Branagh's enthusiasm for the material.