February 10th, 2022
MOVIE: DEATH ON THE NILE
STARRING: KENNETH BRANAGH, GAL GADOT, ARMIE HAMMER, ANNETTE BENING, TOM BATEMAN, ROSE LESLIE, LETITIA WRIGHT
DIRECTED BY: KENNETH BRANAGH
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
When it comes to problems for a movie on the public relations front, Death on the Nile might have set the record for issues, gathering a collection of actors that borders on nuclear at this point. But separating the personal lives of others is not hard to do when the material is an Agatha Christie murder mystery and the only pressure is making sure the theatrics are worth our time. Following up on the mediocre, but delightful to look at Murder on the Orient Express, director Kenneth Branagh tries to turn up the style, and deliver a tougher case to crack for his version Hercule Poirot. The only problem is, Death on the Nile is much too slow of a stroll down the river to make the mystery thrilling, no matter what actors are lined up to be suspects. It should come as no mystery, but Death on the Nile is dead in the water.
Following off the success of his personal and soon-to-be Oscar nominated film Belfast, Branagh opens Death on the Nile with his new appreciation for black & white cinematography, taking us back to when Hercule Poirot was a soldier, fighting for the French army in WWI. It’s an unnecessary backstory into Poirot’s first and only love, while also being an unnecessary origin story to his famous bushy mustache. We flash forward to Poirot on vacation in Egypt, where he coincidentally bumps into his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who invites him to attend the wedding ceremony of Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), a good looking and wealthy couple that found one another when Linnet was introduced by Simon’s one-time fiance Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey). Now they plan to celebrate their love on a weekend boat party “with enough champagne to fill the Nile ”, including various guests, some uninvited enemies, and slighted friends. When one of the guests ends up murdered on the boat, it’s up to Poirot to do his sleuthing to figure out who among them is the killer.
Typically movies in the ‘whodunnit’ style feature a large cast of characters to keep us guessing the killer and Death on the Nile is not skimping on that factor. You have Russell Brand as a doctor and ex-boyfriend to Ridgeway, Annette Bening as Bouc’s nosey mother Euphemia, Letitia Wright as friend Rosalie Otterbourne and manager to entertaining musician Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo). There’s Ali Fazal as Katchadourian, the financial bookkeeper for Ridgeway, Rose Leslie as the assistant to Ridgeway, and lastly there’s Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) a wealthy woman and aunt of Ridgeway, willing to give away her wealth and enjoy the companionship of her assistant Bowers (Dawn French). All of them as a collective group are fine, but the screenplay- written by Michael Green- fails to give them anything to do. They all have their traits and looks, standing around, waiting for someone to be murdered so Poirot can do his thing.
Outside of the general pacing issues in Death on the Nile, by the time we finally arrive at someone being murdered, it’s impossible to care who did it. On top of that, you may have already figured out who it was, and will be shocked at how quickly Branagh wants to wrap things up. One factor that seems to always turn out well for these new age interpretations of Christie’s work is the sets and costume design looks lavish. The problem with that, however, is that it’s set against the backdrop of plastic green screen settings. The visual effects here are not just bad, they are evidence that all movies are better with using on-site locations, or to not do it at all. This is not a trip down the Nile river, but a trip into the imaginary 0’s and 1’s of a graphic designer’s computer.
The bottom line is that Death on the Nile is supposed to be mysterious, intriguing, and thrilling, when it is none of the above. You throw on top of that the uncomfortable actor facts clashing with the narrative fiction, where anti-vax enthusiast Russell Brand is playing a doctor that brings medicines to third-world countries or Armie Hammer biting the neck of his lover. It all amounts to a giant mess of a grand production. Death on the Nile is ultimately just a big disappointment and would be better off left floating down the river.
DEATH ON THE NILE ARRIVES IN THEATERS THIS FRIDAY FEBRUARY 11TH, 2022
2 STARS (Out of 4)
Written by: Leo Brady