Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Sweating Bullets to Smarmy Satisfaction
Death on the Nile is the sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express with director and lead actor Kenneth Branagh returning. The mystery thriller is based on the 1937 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile has been adapted before as a 1978 film and as a 2004 episode of the Poirot television series starring David Suchet.
The 2022 film has been completed since December of 2019. The film was moved around several times due to COVID and was pushed back even further after Armie Hammer’s abuse allegations.
Mostly occurring shortly after the events of Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile offers a bit of a look into the past of Hercule Poirot (Branagh). Taking place on the Yser Bridge in Belgium In 1914, a young Poirot advises his Belgian captain to attack the Germans spontaneously without warning. The attack is a success, but Poirot’s captain triggers an explosive after their victory. The explosion leaves Poirot’s face heavily scarred and offers an explanation as to why he always has a mustache.
Poirot reunites with his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, who also returns from Murder on the Orient Express) in Egypt. Bouc is traveling with his mother Euphemia (Annette Bening) and their friends as they celebrate the marriage of Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). To make matters more complicated, Simon was originally romantically involved with Jaqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) who was also a former friend of Linnet. She now scornfully follows Simon and Linnet around Egypt.
The party travels on the S. S. Karnak, a steamship, along the river Nile. A murder eventually takes place on the steamship, which ignites a desire within Poirot to discover who the killer is before more suffer the same fate.
Flaws Become Freckles
CGI and visual effects are used to make Kenneth Branagh look younger in the opening sequence of the film. The issue is he looks almost as bad as Henry Cavill did as Superman during the reshoots for Justice League. Branagh’s upper lip is almost nonexistent during this sequence and his philtrum seems to barely move when he speaks. It’s a visual nightmare and a terrible way to jump start a murder mystery.
Poirot travels to a Jazz nightclub where he’s first introduced to Simon, Jacqueline, and Linnet. Poirot spends much of the film embracing his OCD habits and people watching. This first nightclub sequence is about ten minutes long and you’re basically forced to watch people do nothing but dance for that entire time. Armie Hammer’s overly sexual dancing combined with his heavy breathing and constant sweating with both Gal Gadot and Emma Mackey is nauseating even without taking his sexual allegations into consideration.
Nothing really happens in the film for the first hour. Death on the Nile takes its sweet time getting to the murder as little things begin to disappear (like a tube of paint) and Simon and Linnet are nearly crushed to death by a falling rock as they’re practically mid-coitus while sightseeing some pyramids. Emma Mackey gives a particularly strong performance. She is blinded by one-sided love in the film and her performance is a combination of passion, borderline insanity, and a broken heart.
Annette Bening is so cynical that it’s humorous and Jennifer Saunders adds just enough sarcastic bite to remind us ever so slightly of Absolutely Fabulous. Letitia Wright portrays business manager Rosalie Otterbourne. Her performance is intriguing because she’s always fighting for what she feels like she’s rightfully owed; whether it’s the right amount of money for her services or her happiness away from the limelight.
Like Murder on the Orient Express and other Agatha Christie adaptations, the enticing aspect of Death on the Nile is not only its massive and recognizable cast but also the fact that the story is written in a way that everyone is a suspect. The film’s nonchalant way of meandering towards that first murder is frustrating. A deliberate pace is one thing, but Death on the Nile is boring for the most part. Poirot is asked to take a case involving Jacqueline and the safety of Simon and Linnet, but is then mocked for being heartless and not being able to solve the case sooner. The people on board are likely meant to be scared, but come off as rich people not getting what they want the instant they want it.
Death on the Nile crawls towards a resolution you don’t feel invested in. Poirot’s backstory is interesting and there are some solid performances especially from the female cast, but the film otherwise feels like an unwanted game of Guess Who after you unwillingly chug two bottles of NyQuil and are asked to predict who the killer is after two long hours of tediousness.
© 2022 Chris Sawin