REVIEW: ‘Death on the Nile’ Has Style and Stars to Spare

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Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile, directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Michael Green, is a film adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel. Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is approached by his longtime friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) to join a vacation celebrating the marriage of Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Also attending the party are jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her niece Rosalie (Letitia Wright); Linnet’s cousin Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal); Bouc’s mother Euphemia (Annette Bening); Doctor Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), Linnet’s former fiance;  Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), Linnet’s maid; and finally, Linnet’s godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and her companion Mrs. Bowers (Dawn French).

Matters grow complicated when Simon’s former lover Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) arrives, hellbent on winning him back. Although Linnet and Simon decide to get away by holding their party on the S.S. Karnak, tragedy strikes when one of the passengers is mysteriously murdered. Poirot attempts to solve the murder, unveiling a host of secrets surrounding the guests along the way and confronting the darkness of his past.

Like Murder on the Orient ExpressDeath on the Nile contains a set of ingredients that have become synonymous with the “whodunnit”: a star-studded cast of suspects, a detective with a unique ability that proves to be useful in solving crimes (for Poirot, his unwavering tendency to pick up on sudden details) and a murder that takes place in a unusual location. Unlike Knives Out, which put a modern (and hilarious) spin on the genre, or The Afterparty, which plays with different types of genres, this film feels like a relic in comparison. Five years have passed in-between Orient and Nile; the genre has grown since then.

As with Orient, I remain conflicted about Branagh’s performance in Nile. His French accent never feels entirely authentic, and while his mustache feels decidedly less fake, the reason for growing it is ridiculous. Yes: this is a movie that features an origin story about Hercule Poirot’s mustache. But credit where credit’s due, Branagh manages to tap into a well of emotion when Poirot reflects on his lost love Katherine; her death is what drove him to become a great detective. Poirot and Bouc’s friendship is also a driving force of the film, with Branagh and Bateman behaving like lifelong friends.

The rest of the cast is hit or miss. Brand is unrecognizable as Dr. Windlesham, and for the better. Okonedo and Branagh have a very flirtatious back-and-forth, which contrasts with his rather pointed encounters with Wright’s Rosalie. But the standout is Mackey as Jacqueline; every scene with her is a masterclass in suspense thanks to her steadily unhinged performance. To quote the old adage, hell hath no fury as a woman scorned, and hell soon comes to the Karnak. The weakest link is Gadot; her chemistry with Hammer is non-existent, which is…not good considering they’re supposed to be playing a pair of newlyweds. Between this and Red Notice, I’m starting to question the depths of Gadot’s talent. And that’s not even getting into the controversy surrounding Hammer.

What can’t be underestimated is Branagh’s direction. Long, sweeping shots capture the majesty of Egypt, from the length of the Nile to the pyramids. There are also several “golden hour” shots thanks to cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and a really neat shot that features the Karnak reflected in the Nile before rising up to show the actual boat. Branagh also opens the film with a black and white prologue set during World War I, which serves as an origin story of sorts for Poirot’s detective career, and yes, that includes his mustache. Branagh and Green even know how to stage a scene for maximum success; there are moments in this film that had me jumping in my seat.

Death on the Nile features a star-studded cast and excellent direction from Kenneth Branagh, though it feels like a relic of a bygone era. If you enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express, I think this would be right up your alley; however, I can say that there are more interesting and more modern whodunnits out there.

Death on the Nile premieres in theaters nationwide on February 11, 2021.


Death on the Nile
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Death on the Nile features a star-studded cast and excellent direction from Kenneth Branagh, though it feels like a relic of a bygone era. If you enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express, I think this would be right up your alley.