This is the year of Kenneth Branagh, for sure. The veteran director not only was able to release Death on the Nile, a movie that has been delayed numerous times because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a couple of scandals involving one of its stars. But also for the release of his most personal film, Belfast. It will be Belfast that people remember the most, thanks to its many nominations during awards season. However, Death on the Nile still has some things to offer.
Death on the Nile is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Branagh himself in the role of the mythical detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh is accompanied by a cast of stars that includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Russell Brand, Annette Benning, Rose Leslie, Emma Hackey, and Letitia Wright. The film tells the story of Hercule Poirot, who, while on vacation in Egypt, meets a couple ready to get married. The couple asks for his protection, and when the inevitable occurs, it is Poirot’s responsibility to solve the case.
Murder on the Orient Express was an unexpected success at the box office, earning more than seven times its production budget, which is very nice. It was obvious that a bigger sequel was going to be greenlit, and Branagh chose Death on the Nile as the next Agatha Christie story to be adapted.
This decision comes with both pros and cons. Death on the Nile is similar enough to the Orient Express to feel familiar to audiences wanting more of that first film, but the exotic scenarios make for a different atmosphere. Despite that, the story itself and the mystery at its heart might be the weakest among Agatha Christie’s works. When the solution to the case is revealed to the audience so early in the film, and yet, the movie keeps going for at least one more hour and a half, well, it becomes an exercise in patience. It isn’t fun to wait for the movie to catch up with the audience.
The mystery might not be very mysterious or compelling, but the movie finds itself entertaining thanks to an excellent cast of great actors. Branagh himself as Poirot is a joy to watch, the actor/director is having a ton of fun with the character, and it feels infectious. Gal Gadot, on the other hand, serves well as the woman of dreams, perfection made flesh, as she evolves during the movie into a more compelling and fleshed out character.
Then comes the particular case of Armie Hammer, talented without a thought but covered in controversy thanks to the violent allegations against him. Hammer’s career seems to be over, and this might be the last we see of him on the big screen. This fact shouldn’t cloud his performance, but it is difficult not to think about it while watching it. He does very well, but his real-life situation might hurt the movie in terms of how mysterious it should feel.
The rest of the cast do their jobs, but their characters serve more as plot devices than anything else. Letitia Wright is the standout, along with Russell Grand, who goes against his casting in other movies.
Death on the Nile has double the budget of the Orient Express and you can feel it. However, most of the money seems to have been spent on CGI vistas of 1930s Egypt. These CGI scenarios often give the movie a feeling of magic, like living in a place on earth that has never existed. Still, they can feel so unrealistic that they might take some members of the audience out of the movie. The visual language of the movie is very modern, and this sometimes clashes with the old-fashioned style of its narrative.
Maybe it would have been better if, along with the modernization of the filming techniques, Branagh and his team could have also modernized the narrative itself. Christie was such an influential writer that the resolution of this story has been copied countless times throughout the century, and when we see it again here, it feels repetitive and boring.
The lavishness of the production might be the only thing that grabs some people, but Branagh does well directing and taking the characters of Poirot into interesting territory. The character’s development is even more compelling than the mystery.
This might be the last we see of this franchise, but if there’s another one in the future, it would be nice to create a new original story. Knives Out came out a couple of years ago, and it seems that one is the franchise that will take the place of this one when it comes to this type of film. If Poirot wants to survive, it will need to adapt. It is a must. Another Death on the Nile is unacceptable.
At the end of the day, Death on the Nile is a good time, but completely forgettable even with its lavish visuals. It might not be worthy of a theater experience, but if you can catch it later on streaming, give it a go.