Review – Death on the Nile

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Overview

Synopsis Hercule Poirot finds himself sucked into intrigue and love on a steamboat trip down the Nile when a woman is mysteriously murdered and the most likely subject couldn't have done it!

Length 2 Hours, 7 Minutes

Release Date February 11th, 2022

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution 20th Century Studios , Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directing Kenneth Branagh

Writing Michael Green. Based on the book by Agatha Christie

Composition Patrick Doyle

Starring Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright

Kenneth Branagh is one of the great directors of the last forty years of popular cinema. His work has been very unconventional and inconsistent. The last decade gave us films like Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Artemis Fowl, and Disney’s live-action Cinderella. Most recently, he directed the very silly historical biopic All Is True before directing the critically acclaimed indie drama Belfast. He’s directed epic adaptations of Shakespeare and poorly regarded horror film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

He’s an inconsistent artist but the heights of his accomplishments are insurmountable. In the past half-decade, he’s cut his teeth attempting to resurrect one of the 20th century’s most popular literary characters, Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot. 

The newest film in this franchise, Death on the Nile, was originally scheduled for release in October 2020 but was delayed repeatedly because of the COVID pandemic until February 2022 and released in US theaters this past weekend with a modest $5.1 million on Valentine’s Day weekend, with an international gross of $36.4 million.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A horribly mutilated face is shown in one scene in black and white—it is gruesome. A dead body is discovered underwater. Two characters are shot, some blood shown.
Language/Crude Humor: Some profanity including a**, h***, and d***.
Sexual Content: The story explores love, adultery, lust, and characters discuss sex frequently. Characters dance in very suggestive ways. Two characters are revealed to be lesbians.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Frequent alcohol consumption throughout the film.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Themes: Some sexuality some may find suggestive.
Positive Content: Themes of love and truth.

Review

I’ve been told that 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express is a controversial adaptation of Agatha Christie’s beloved Hercules Poirot novel, at least among Hercule Poirot fans. Certainly, it’s not the only adaptation, or possibly the best one. Albert Finney famously starred in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation to great acclaim. David Suchet also played Poirot in the British TV drama Agatha Christie’s Poirot to great effect, as many of my literary friends consider him the best depiction of the character.

I couldn’t help but get swept up in Branagh’s work though! Kenneth Branagh is one of our greatest living dramatists, having cut his teeth on five cutting-edge Shakespeare adaptations in the 1980s and 1990s. I loved seeing him get deeply invested in this new franchise of sorts.

Branagh was able to do with $55 million what Deadpool—a movie that looked like it was shot in a parking lot—couldn’t do with $80 million. He made a lush, vibrant, star-studded affair with a unique take on one of the 20th century’s best literary characters.

Death on the Nile is a wonderful continuation of his work in Murder on the Orient Express, which continues the loose story he started in that film in the hopes of expanding out this series into something bigger.

The film picks up after the events of the previous film. Poirot is abroad in Egypt when he stumbles upon a strange love triangle being played out by a man, his wife, and his former lover, one being one of the richest women on earth. When his wife approaches Poirot scared for her safety, he finds himself on a honeymoon cruise up the Nile River and sucked into the machinations of rich family drama, intrigue, blackmail, and ends up witness to multiple murders, with a time limit to solve them while the boat is on the water.

Much like his previous adaptation, Branagh seems fairly reliant on the story of the book. Like his previous adaptation though, he does take some liberties. He continues the trend of the previous book of adding additional character drama to Poirot by expanding his character arcs out with new scenes and ideas. The previous film was about challenging Poirot’s strict definition of justice while this one is about challenging his reservations about love.

Love is the major theme of Death on the Nile, and the story is ultimately about the depths a person will go for love, and how money can corrupt that love. The wrinkle Branagh adds is a prologue that explores Poirot’s service in World War I and even offers a back door origin story for his famously goofy mustache. This ends up setting up a subplot where Poirot falls in love with one of the side characters.

I can’t say how well it all fits together. The movie as a whole definitely feels shakier and less confident than its predecessor, if only because it’s not working with the killer plot and finale of the previous story. The environments in the film are beautiful and I definitely enjoyed the way the film quietly built its intrigue and paranoia. The ticking time bomb element though felt underutilized.

The story’s final conclusion also felt a bit convoluted, without spoiling it. Nothing can beat the last film’s ending of course, but films like this live and die by the final reveals and the ultimate revelation was slightly head spinning and far-reaching.

It probably doesn’t help this film is releasing in the aftermath of the tightly knit Knives Out, which felt like it was able to play with the tropes of the mystery genre more radically because it wasn’t based on a 90-year-old book.

I’ll still defend Death on the Nile as a positively euphoric and enjoyable experience though. It’s a step down in quality from his work on the first film, but it’s still a self-contained and engaging murder mystery in its own right with lively production design and performances. Branagh is one of our great artists and I’d happily welcome a half dozen more of his Poirot mystery adaptations if he’s got the energy to do them. There are thirty-three Poirot novels and I wouldn’t mind watching him try and adapt every one of them! He’s clearly passionate about them and I want to see what else he can do!

Positives

+ Great performances and supporting performances
+ Beautiful production design
+ Engaging mystery story

Negatives

- Convoluted ending
- Weaker story than first film

The Bottom Line

Death on the Nile may be a step down from Murder on the Orient Express but it is a wonderful mystery thriller in its own right that is well worth seeing!

 

7.8

Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to Geeks Under Grace, The Living Church, North American Anglican, Baptist News Global, The Tennessee Register, Angelus News, The Dispatch, Voeglin View, Hollywood in Toto, Law and Liberty, The Federalist, Main Street Nashville, Leaders Media, and the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee.

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