Death on the Nile (2022) Review

HOW MANY GREAT STORIES

ARE TRAGEDIES?


 

In 2017, actor / director Kenneth Branagh brought the classic and beloved murder mystery drama of novelist Agatha Christie to the silver screen with the release of Murder on the Orient Express. Directed and starring in the lead role by Branagh himself, the film, which also had the talents of Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench amongst several others, followed the exploits of one eccentric, yet super sleuth detective Hercule Poirot as he pieces together a murder case that occurred upon the Orient Express train. While this wasn’t the first adaptation Christie’s famed, this version of Murder on the Orient Express boasted a solid cast and the production value and, while some drew criticism on the feature’s screenplay and sluggish pacing, the film still managed to collect over $350 million at the global box office against its $55 million production budget. This was enough for the studio at the time (20th Century Fox) to move forward with a follow-up adventure of Christie’s Poirot detective. Yet, the potential sequel movie was delayed for several years, due to both Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, almost five years since the release the 2017 murder caper remake, 20th Century Fox (under the operational control of the Disney banner) and director Kenneth Branagh prepare for the next Hercule Poirot’s mystery with the release of Death on the Nile. Does this latest installment find a compelling cinematics to warrant another Poirot adventure or is it tiresome bore that has little gumption to solve another murder case?

THE STORY


Set sometime after the events of what occurred upon the Orient Express, master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is need of an escape of crime solving, with his leisure time taking the super sleuth to Egypt to see the sights. There, Poirot runs into his old friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), who’s in the country with his mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening), to celebrate the wedding of Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) to Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle Linnet (Gal Gadot) Doyle, a woman of fortune and position. Soon the honeymoon soiree moves to the water, with the celebratory affair transitions to the S.S. Karnak, with the ship heading down the Nile river with several prominent passengers in the party, including Linnet’s maid, Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie); Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), Linnet’s cousin / lawyer; Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), Linnet’s godmother; her nurse Mrs. Bowers (Dawn French); Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), Linnet’s former finance; famed singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), and her niece, Rosalie (Letitia Wright). Stalking the couple is Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), Simon’s ex-girlfriend and once friend to Linnet, who refuses to leave the pair alone, shadowing their movement across their honeymoon tour; purchasing a ticket on-board the Karnak and causing uneasy feeling with her sudden appearance. In the middle of voyage, a murder occurs, with Poirot (as an invited guest of Bouc) jumps into action, locking down the guest to examine their personal alibis and motivations as tension rises on-board the Karnak. Every passenger has a motive, but who is the killer?

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I will be the first admit that I loved Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express. Of course, like many out there, I knew a vague understand of Christie’s classic murder mystery novel, with the tale being told having that iconic pop-culture reference. Despite that, however, I really didn’t know the actual story of the Orient Express, with maybe the exception of Hercule Poirot, Christie’s Belgian eccentric detective. Looking past all of that, I do like a good murder mystery, especially one that has that classical feeling of “old school murder mystery” feeling throughout as well as having that visual aesthetics of a period piece drama. Thus, the combination of all that works in Branagh’s favor with his 2017 remake film of the beloved murder mystery novel. I did see the original 1974 film, with actor Albert Finney as Poirot, but I did see it after watching Branagh’s version. Of the two, I think that Branagh was slightly better, which is mostly due to the more diverse cast that fill out the “suspected” supporting players of the story as well as the stylish production quality in updated filmmaking cinematics. Still, I did feel that the new movie didn’t bring much difference from the 1974 version, which I understand why several people had mixed opinions on this new iteration. Altogether, I think what Branagh did with Christie’s narrative is something cinematic / technical great and perhaps one of the main reasons why I found his interpretation of Murder on the Orient Express to be enjoyable and entertaining to watch every now and again.

This brings me back to talking about Death on the Nile, a 2022 murder mystery drama piece and the follow-ups sequel feature to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express. Unlike other sequels that are out now by trying to entice interest in a potential franchise, Branagh’s 2017 film was pretty much a closed “one and done” endeavor; a self-contained story of Christie’s novel that ends the picture nicely as a standalone project. That being said, the success that the 2017 movie had was well-met, which prompted the studio to greenlight a follow-up project, with actor / director Kenneth Branagh returning to both direct and star in new production. When this new sequel project was announced, I was quite excited to see a new murder mystery from this new iteration of Poirot, a character that was quite amusing to see being played by Branagh himself. Plus, the new details on Death on the Nile got me even more interested, especially with the new cast of well-recognizable acting talents (i.e. Gadot, Hammer, Benning, Wright, Brandt, etc.). It took a while for the film’s movie trailer to come to light, but I loved watching it and got me somewhat hyped to see the upcoming film, which was originally December 20th, 2020. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Death on the Nile saw numerous delays in its theatrical release, with the “House of Mouse” purchasing 20th Century Fox trademark / properties, which placed a sort of “limbo” on upcoming feature films. This, with the combination of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic shuttering movie theaters and the film world altogether, Death on the Nile was delayed further with several release dates in 2021 before it finally ended up being pushed back another year for an early 2022 release. Fortunately, with my work schedule back to normal and with blog caught up on movie reviews, I finally ready to start reviewing 2022 movies, with Death on the Nile being one of my first one. So, I decided to head to my local movie theater to see check out this new film during its opening weekend. And what did I think of this second adventure of Hercule Poirot? Well, I liked it. Despite having a few small setbacks, Branagh’s Death on the Nile is a solid follow-up murder mystery adventure to his 2017 film; offering up lavishing production qualities and a spot-on ensemble cast for the feature’s large supporting cast. I don’t think it surpass Murder on the Orient Express or falls way below, but rather keeps up the same bravado and expectations; a resulting factor can be either good or bad.

As mentioned, Death on the Nile sees the return of Kenneth Branagh to the directing chair for the project as well as the lead protagonist of the feature. I’ll mention his acting in the movie and little further down in my review. For now, let’s talk about the directing portion of Branagh. For those who don’t know, Branagh has dabbled in film directing for quite some time. Not just only helming 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, but also other notable projects like Hamlet, Thor, and Cinderella. Thus, the credibility of the Branagh’s direction is sound. Well, maybe not 2020’s Artemis Fowl, but we don’t talk about that movie. The good news is that Branagh’s direction is much more focused than Fowl ever was; finding a pleasant rhythm in shaping Christie’s iconic detective Poirot novel. Like with his Orient Express, Branagh makes the story have that “old world” charm of Hollywood, which makes Death on the Nile have that classic feeling of being vintage, yet still modern-looking for a today’s fashion of cinematic filmmaking. The combination of this works in the feature’s favor, with Branagh crafting another murder mystery adventure that adheres to what he did before in the 2017 remake, yet also manages to weave a few more interesting aspects into this new project. Perhaps the most interesting one is that narrative of Death on the Nile has a more subtle impact upon Poirot’s life. Not a huge amount, but enough for the character have depth, with the murder case (the murder itself and several suspects) reflecting Poirot’s life backstory and offering glimpses, including an opening salvo intro to the feature, of the detective’s mindset of love and loneliness. It certainly helps make the character a bit more well-rounded and gives a further dimension into Branagh’s portrayal of who Poirot.

Even looking beyond that, there is still a lot to like about Death on the Nile, which (again) follows a more “old world” feeling of a classic murder mystery; generating a satisfying bravado of characters and detective sleuthing over the course of the movie’s runtime. As to be expected, there are a slightly changes made from Christie’s novel, but nothing that would ruin the experience for either longtime fans of the Poirot novels or those looking for an old fashioned murder capper. Like before, Branagh makes the various character the main players of the feature and, while some get more spotlight than others (more on that below), all of them are great, with Death on the Nile feeling like a character study of human behavior; finding Poirot examine different lives to solve a case. Overall, while I don’t think that this sequel endeavor outshines 2017’s Orient Express, I still think that Branagh is the right director to make Death on the Nile come alive, with such theatrical boldness and deep character study of suspicion, murder, and intrigue.

In the overall technical presentation, I think that Death on the Nile is a solid feature film that continues the trend of having a lavishing production quality from start to finish. Like Orient Express, the feature’s backdrop setting is exquisitely rich and adds flavor for the detective crime solving that’s wrapped in a lavishing period piece drama. This helps creates a very “old school” style for the film’s world to live in as well as utilizing the art style motifs and landmark locations of Egypt circa late 30s. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” main team players, including Jim Clay (production design), Abi Groves and Amanda Willgrave (set decorations), Paco Delagdo and JobanJit Singh (costume designs), and the entire art direction department for their efforts in making Death on the Nile’s production layout and overall design work terrific in helping bring the feature’s setting and time era to life in a theatrical bold way. Additionally, the film’s cinematography work by Haris Zambarloukos is spot on and offers up some great cinematic feeling throughout the picture, including various slick camera angles and dynamic / dramatic usage of glass windows angles for shots. Definitely adds a layer of visual flair to the feature and some great shots in the flick. Also, the film’s score, which was composed by Patrick Doyle, was solid all the way around, finding the feature’s musical composition terrific all the way around and evoking the right amount of tension and dramatic poise in every scene. All in all, a great movie soundtrack.

Unfortunately, there are a few missteps that Death on the Nile has in both its undertaking and overall execution. Perhaps the most notable one that many will examine is the how the feature’s narrative is presented and the somewhat slightly sluggish portion of the first half compared to the latter half. What do I mean? Well, the film’s screenplay, which was done by Michael Green (who did the screenplay for 2017’s Orient Express) does take its time of getting to the actual “meat” of the Death on the Nile…. like almost an hour. Considering that Murder on the Orient Express gets to the point of the narrative within roughly 30 minutes mark, yet this sequel’s first half is all the set-up to the actual murder of the story. Of course, this is fine, but it seems like the screenplay trudges along a slow pace on how everything falls into place. So, when the actual “murder” scene takes place, Death on the Nile is already halfway. Naturally, the second half is what one would expect from a murder mystery, with Poirot investigate the numerous passengers onboard the Karnak as he pieces everything together and this is where the film gets far more interesting. Thus, it takes a while for Death on the Nile to get going and where the screenplay by Green lacks finesse and overall execution.

In addition, Green screenplay lacks that certain special “X” factor that he was able to achieve on the Orient Express. Of course, all the pieces are in place and ripe for the picking, but neither Green nor even Branagh can muster the same type of stamina and excitement that the previous 2017 was able to offer. Don’t get me wrong…..Death on the Nile still works and functions as one would expect for a good murder mystery tale, but there is just something off about that makes it slightly less than what Orient Express was able to cultivate. My other big complain about the film was some of the shots in the first half that have some glaring green screen effects. Given the amount of acting talents involved and the great production value has on the movie, one would expect a solid presentation all around for the feature’s budget. Unfortunately, several green screen backdrop shots are quite noticeable and definitely took me out of the feature’s Egyptian setting that the film was trying to depict. It’s just such a strange thing because a movie like this shouldn’t have such poor visual effects, especially ones where background setting is in need. Lastly, as a minor complaint / criticism, I thought that the film’s ending was a bit wonky. Sure, the case is solved, and everything is somewhat put right, but there is just something that seems a bit off-kilter. It’s as if neither Branagh nor Green’s screenplay knew how to end the feature on a proper footing; left with a confusing ending. I definitely get what they were trying to go for, but it ends up being a bit perplexing and off-putting.

The cast in 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express was a definite treat, seeing a film ensemble grouping of recognizable acting talents for such an iconic murder mystery remake capper. Branagh once again assembles a fine selection actors and actress for Death on the Nile and helps champion the feature over some of the criticisms that I shared in the above paragraph. Once again, Branagh leads the charge and acts as the central “glue” for the feature as he reprises his Orient Express character and Christie’s famous detective solver Hercule Poirot. Of his acting, Branagh, who is known for Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Tenet, has always been a great “theatrical” actor; a true thespian talent that has the Shakespearean prose and cues of which is offered in almost every performance and portrayal he has played throughout his career. His interpretation of Hercule Poirot is something right up Branagh’s alley and caliber; playing up the matriculate nature of the celebrated detective and the eccentricities that Christie has made the character well-known throughout the literary world. In Death on the Nile, Branagh is still (very much so) play up the notions in Poirot, with the actor easily sliding back into the role with joyful glee and theatrical boldness. The movie does offer a little bit more “grit” to Branagh’s performance in Poirot, with the case showcasing his personal plights and backstory reflecting the case he’s working on, which gives Branagh a platform to sink his teeth in the role. Personally, I think that Branagh was terrific in the movie and continues to bring the character of Hercule Poirot to life in a very bold and cinematic way. Love it!

Interestingly, Branagh’s Poirot isn’t the only character that returns from Murder on the Orient Express, with the character of Bouc, Poirot’s longtime friend and former operational director manage of the Orient Express, plays a part in the narrative of Death on the Nile, with actor Tom Bateman returning to reprise his role from the 2017 film. Known for his roles in Cold Pursuit, The Tunnel, and Da Vinci’s Demons, Bateman doesn’t have the lengthy back catalogue of performances like some of his co-stars, but his acting is solid throughout his various projects, and he did manage to create a good supporting player in Murder on the Orient Express as well as in this new movie. Green’s screenplay gives Bateman plenty to play around with in Death on the Nile; finding the character having a larger role than in the previous installment. Bateman is up to the task and turns a fine performance; making Bouc have a memorable importance on the feature.

Looking beyond Branagh and Bateman, actress Gal Gadot is quite stunning and fits perfectly in the role of Linnet Ridgeway-Dole, a wealth socialite who marries Simon Doyle. Gadot, who is known for her roles in Wonder Woman, Red Notice, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, has always been a fan-favorite of mine. So, I might be a little bit biased for her involvement on this project, but I felt that Gadot was sublime as Linnet by creating such a striking physical character that matches the glamour and vanity that the character requires for the feature. It’s not the most dynamic or meaty role that Gadot has played before, but I think she had fun playing Linnet. The only problem that I felt with her character is that there isn’t much of a “big reveal” behind her motivations nor a somewhat “interested” past that is secretly exposed. What’s presented is pretty straightforward and, while I do understand that the screenplay has to follow Christie’s novel slightly (as a blueprint), I just wished that there was a bit more depth / substance to her character revealed. Still, for better or worse, I think Gadot was perfect for the role of Linnet. Of the entire cast (both major and supporting), I would say that actor Armie Hammer is the weak link of the feature as Linnet’s husband / Jacqueline’s former lover Simon Doyle. Of course, Hammer, who is known for his roles in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Social Network, and Call Me by Your Name, is a capable actor, especially in the lead role position, but I just felt that he was a bit of a miscast as he never makes the character his own and plays up the bravado and persona of husband of a former socialite of that era that is atypical for features like these. Plus, a few scenes in the movie I felt that his dialogue lines (and his delivery of them) were a tad hammy at times. In addition, his recent real-life accusations also cast a shadow over his performance in the movie in general, which doesn’t help his portrayal of Simon. Of course, both Hammer and Gadot looks great together whenever on-screen, but…. I don’t know…. there’s just something a bit off with his character and his performance that left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth.

Faring better than Hammer in terms of acting and character is actress Emma Mackey (Eiffel and Sex Education) as Jacqueline de Bellefort, Simon’s former love interest and Linnet’s former friend. Mackey nails the devious nature of Jacqueline, a shifty yet subtle stalker who cast a shadow over Linnet and Simon’s celebration at every turn. The only pitfall of her character is, like Gadot’s Linnet, Jacqueline is somewhat straightforward and, while the picture tries to emulate something sympathy for her plight and situation, it doesn’t hold up. All in all, Mackey was good in the role and fits the off-kilter nature of Jacqueline de Bellefort in Death on the Nile.

Who actually shines the best of the supporting players are actresses Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda and The Secret Life of Bees) and Letitia Wright (Black Panther and Sing 2) as renowned jazz singer Salome Otterbourne and her business manage / niece, Rosalie. Together, both characters are supporting players in Death on the Nile, but are given enough screen time to make their respective characters come alive with such vim and vigor in the feature, with spunk and sassy dialogue lines. This, of course, makes the various scenes that feature Okonedo and Wright a true delight in the movie; finding both to chew threw their dialogue with such glee and timing. Altogether, they were characters in the film and deserve the memorable character prose throughout

I will also say that, while their characters doesn’t have enough “grit” and not as “juicy” dialogue lines to chew through like Bateman, Wright, and Okonedo, I felt that actress Annette Being (American Beauty and The Siege) and actor Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Rock of Ages) turn some fine performances in the movie. Being is very much a seasoned actress and I loved her appearance in Death in the Nile, with her performance as Bouc’s contrive mother Euphemia, while Brand gave such a surprising solid acting performance as Linnet’s former finance / aristocratic doctor Linus Windlesham. I was kind of surprise by Brand’s performance, and I really didn’t expect him in such a gravitas murder mystery feature like this one.

The rest of the cast includes actress Jennifer Saunders (Shrek 2 and Absolutely Fabulous) Linnet’s godmother and socialite-turned-Communist Marie Van Schuyler, actress Dawn French (Coraline and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) as Marie’s lifetime nurse / companion Mrs. Bowers, actress Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) as Linnet’s lady’s maid Louise Bourget, and actor Ali Fazal (Victoria & Abdul and Furious 7) as Linnet’s cousin / lawyer Andrew Katchadourian. Much like what happened to several other characters in Orient Express, these players in Death in the Nile sort of get push aside and merely there to help fuel several moments of suspicion and intrigue. They (I’m talking about the characters) don’t get much time to truly shine in the picture (only had layers of suspected passengers for motivations behind the murder), yet still manage to make a somewhat memorable impression with their respectable acting talents in their supporting performances.

FINAL THOGUHTS


A honeymoon excursion down Egypt’s Nile River turns deadly as keen intellect Hercule Poirot uncovers a web of lies, deceit, and motivations from suspects on who is the murder in the movie Death on the Nile. Director Kenneth Branagh’s latest film takes what he began from his 2017 film and continues the exploits of his iteration of Poirot; translating a vintage style mystery capper for a new audience through today’s cinematic achievements. While the feature does have a few problems that it needs to iron out, including a slow beginning and a few missteps in its undertaking, the movie still manages to be enjoyable and entertaining thanks to Branagh’s direction, a solid production quality, and a great cast, including Branagh’s brilliant performance as Poirot. Personally, I liked this movie. Is the movie good? Yes, it is. Does it have its fair share criticisms? Of course, it does. Did I still enjoy it? Absolutely. Yes, I will say that there were a few problems with how everything plays out (structure narration-wise), but I still enjoyed the murder mystery endeavor of Branagh’s vision of Christie’s novel.  That being said, I would say that Murder on the Orient Express is the better of the two films. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “recommended” one, with many moviegoers and fans looking for a fun and solid distraction of cinematic mystery and touch of the classics. Like in the previous film, the movie’s conclusion closes murder case, but there is always an option for a third entry in Branagh’s Hercule Poirot detective crime solving. If one does materialize, I do welcome it and would love to see it! In the end, while the feature doesn’t reinvent the wheel of the “whodunit” variety, Death on the Nile is provides perfectly serviceable mystery thriller, expanding upon Branagh’s vision for Christie’s iconic eccentric super sleuth with another “old school” cinematic tale of murder, intrigue, and suspicion.

3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)

Released On: February 11th, 2022
Reviewed On: February 12th, 2022

Death on the Nile  is 127 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material

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