Death on the Nile Review
Death on the Nile Review
Although many of Agatha Christie's works are nearly a century old, they remain highly respected and influential classics in the world of mystery literature. Some of her novels and her short stories may seem simple to modern readers, as her tricks and surprises have become common in the genre. Despite this, in 2017 we saw an adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express that left us surprised by its quality. Now we have its sequel: an adaptation of the equally famous novel Death on the Nile and in this review we are going to find out if it lives up to its predecessor.
The truth is that it will not be easy. Despite his age, Murder on the Orient Express has a surprising resolution that hasn't been widely imitated. The mystery of Death on the Nile is much more traditional.
This film brings back Hercule Poirot, who follows a wealthy British couple on their honeymoon during a journey down the Nile River in Egypt. As expected, there is a murder on board and the "World's Greatest Detective" must find out who committed the crime before the boat reaches its destination or there is another death.
Like Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile is a film full of stars and veterans of the seventh art. Leading the cast we have Kenneth Branagh, who again plays the role of Poirot and directs the film. We have no choice but to praise him for his work. Although he respects the most iconic elements of the character, such as his particular upturned mustache and his apparent obsessive-compulsive disorder, he endows him with his own personality and mannerisms. It can be said that he «makes it completely his own» and this time he seems to have more fun with the role than in the previous film, in which he felt like a «tormented genius».
The plot revolves around the couple played by Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer, who are somewhat disappointing. We're not saying this because of how problematic they've turned out to be in real life, especially Hammer , but because they don't "fill the screen" like they have in other roles. Gadot has never been a good actress, but she knows how to handle her beauty and charisma on screen. That is not felt here and she is absolutely overshadowed by Branagh and Emma Mackey, who steals the 'show' in her role as her jealous ex-girlfriend . Returning to the problematic actors, we have Letitia Wright — who is causing problems in the production of the Black Panther sequel due to her anti-vaccine position — and Russell Brand in a surprisingly serious role.
Other actors who shine are Annette Bening, Jennifer Saunders and Sophie Okonedo. Rose Leslie ( Game of Thrones ) and Tom Bateman, who returns to the same role from the previous film as an old friend of Poirot's, also do a good job.
One death, or maybe more, on the Nile River
The first hour of the film establishes the personalities of all the Nile travelers well and hints at their secrets, but it's not particularly entertaining. It is only when the first murder occurs that we switch to the established format of "Poirot interrogates the suspects one by one and accuses them of being the murderer to see what happens", which allows the actors to show off and reveal new and interesting details about each of the characters.
Agatha Christie purists may be annoyed at the changes this movie makes to the story. It doesn't just add characters, it completely alters others—Salome goes from being a novelist to a blues singer, for example—and focuses on entirely new ideas. Of course, the central mystery remains the same. Ironically, that might be the movie's biggest flaw.
When we say that Death on the Nile is a "traditional mystery", we mean that its solution is quite obvious. It is rare to see Poirot take so long to come to his conclusion. Of course, the fun is in the details of the investigation and how the evidence is uncovered, but that familiar resolution makes it less powerful.
The kingdom of the pharaohs
The Egyptian scene is also a disappointment. We know that this is where the original novel takes place, but the movie doesn't do much to make this "exotic" place an important part of the plot. Instead there are very forced references to the life of Cleopatra that have no relevance and an abuse of the usual images —pyramids, mummies and the sphinx— that make us roll our eyes in sorrow.
Nor does it stand out visually when it comes to showing these scenarios. The production did not take place in Egypt and the common landscapes of that country are recreated with less than subtle visual effects. Photography makes these stand out and they end up feeling pretty fake. Fortunately, he does better at handling indoor scenarios. Not only are they colorful and opulent, but the scenes are well composed.
Speaking of elements that look 'fake', Death on the Nile opens with a black and white flashback to Poirot's World War I past. CGI is used here to "rejuvenate" Kenneth Branagh's face in a similar way to what was done to Luke in recent Star Wars series , but it looks even more fake and weird. The movement of the eyes makes it especially unnatural. These scenes are supposed to plant the seed of the film's biggest theme, but they will be remembered for serving as a clumsy "origin story" for Poirot's moustache.
Love in the interwar times
The topic we were referring to is “love”. The story puts in a central place —sometimes above the mystery itself— the characters' beliefs, reactions and attitudes towards this feeling. It's something that could be 'cheesy', but Kenneth Branagh handles it incredibly well. It is not one of those tapes that show love as a sublime aspiration. He demonstrates that it can be used as a tool and take radically different forms... even mutating into hatred and obsession.
Death on the Nile is a more than decent movie, with good characters and a couple of amazing performances . Its mystery is not great, the visual effects could be better, there are times when the narrative is not well spun and carries the weight of some problematic actors. Despite that, Branagh's Hercule Poirot is worth seeing in action. In fact, we would like to see him in a third film.