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Cinephilia: ‘Death on the Nile’ makes for another swift murdery-mystery but comes with baggage

Kenneth Branagh returns as the infamous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in 2022’s “Death on the Nile,” another murder mystery adaptation based on the 1937 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

Branagh finds himself not only in front of the camera, but also behind it in the director’s chair — a similar feat he took upon himself years earlier with 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” Pack your bags and pop the champagne, because everyone is in for a ride.

Written by “Orient Express” scribe Michael Green, “Death on the Nile” tells the story of the lavish honeymoon of Simon Doyle and Linnet Ridgeway, played by Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot respectively, as they are surrounded by a group of their closest friends in Egypt. When Simon’s former fiance and his wife’s former friend Jacqueline de Bellefort, played by Emma Mackey of Netflix’s “Sex Education,” makes a surprise appearance, everybody is rushed off on the Nile River aboard a luxury boat. As night settles, murder cries out.

Death on the Nile review
The murder mystery “Death on the Nile.” Andrew Harwood reviews the newest film adaptation of the 1937 Agatha Christie novel, applauding director Kenneth Branagh’s acting in the film yet ultimately saying it did not live up to the overall story and murder mystery genre. HUI-EN LIN/DFP STAFF

Off the bat, “Death on the Nile” struggles in the beginning to get itself started, focusing on the background of Poirot that ends up being incredibly irrelevant and strictly an attempt at an additional story. This makes sense on the basis that the source material or plot itself remains relatively short, drawn out in the investigation itself. However, the failure to properly pull the audience into the film within the first few minutes remains problematic.

That said, Branagh is ingenious as Poirot, quite literally serving as a possibility of him existing as the Belgian in a past life. Branagh is keen to his role of the obsessive, intricate yet incredibly atune detective, who parades around a river boat with pure grace, but also pure intelligence. Additionally, Mackey propels a great deal of promise and strength in a role that was projected as something quite opposite of her repertoire. Her ability to hold both the charm, cynical and playfulness of a young heartbroken woman seeking revenge holds true to the very end.

On this note though, not everyone shines bright, most noticeably Gadot who performs in typecast position as a wealthy, beautiful heiress. Chemistry is hence nonexistent between Gadot and Hammer, which can be understood from simple plot points that will remain stored away, yet at the end of it, there is no need to attempt to convince anyone of anything.

“Death on the Nile” glitz-and-glams itself to a flaunty and flashy spectacle of luxury, built upon the highly digitalized and at times comical surroundings of “Egypt.” It’s shot in meticulous fashion, most noticeably towards the very end which helps showcase the talent of Greek-Cyrpiot cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos.

Impressive long takes help balance the intensity of the narrative, where characters rush around on board amid the panic that abrupts from a midnight murder, the camera behaving so generously to capture such emotion.

The narrative itself pertains mainly to later in the film — roughly the final 50 minutes or so — in the wake of the murder, where the film, in a sense, begins. This is not a foreign concept, of course, as it is typical for a film to “begin” later in its run — the beginning act is meant to introduce character and setting as action rises progressively through the flow of things, or a river for this matter.

But “Death on the Nile” struggles to truly raise the action until the gun goes off. We are dragged through Egypt, though starting in London to meet Doyle and Bellefort, until we find ourselves back on the banks of the Nile surrounded by a strew of characters we learn very little about.

The heart of “Death on the Nile” is its story, as it is with all of Christie’s novels — which all are fantastic by the way — because with a great story comes an even greater experience. Experience is hard to translate when it comes to film for artistic challenges or differences arise and are dealt with easy accommodations, either enhancing or diminishing the experience.

But nothing can be taken away from the passion and commitment “Death on the Nile” shows to the genre of murder mystery. It is a fantastic ride, once it gets into the brute of everything. It is then a shame how some aspects of the film couldn’t quite meet the same level.

An entertaining and at times spectacular impression, “Death on the Nile” sees Branagh strive in front of and behind the camera, but no one can save an overcrowded ship.

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One Comment

  1. Huge fan of Agatha Christie’s novels. Such a compelling story and pretty well shown on screen. Totally agree about a lack of chemistry between Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot.