By the time we get around to the actual murder mystery in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation and sequel Death on the Nile, half of the suspects are over it as much as the audience will be. Why market something as a whodunnit if the film takes nearly half of its time getting there and put little to no effort into revolving the narrative around said murder. This time around, I didn’t care about the mystery nor any of the suspects involved. If there is anything Death on the Nile is guilty of, it’s killing my ability to give it my full attention. Whereas in Orient Express, the predecessor, has a well written, thought-out narrative to make the characters involved infinitely more interesting to learn about and catch in a lie.
Just like its predecessor, Death on the Nile is a monotonous mess that is slow to begin, slow to unfold and slow to end. Forget about building momentum through a series of discoveries or catching the suspects in a lie, Nile boasts no climax to give any sense of satisfaction to arriving at the conclusion. Branagh injects more of Shakespeare into his adaptation than Agatha Christie herself who wrote the novel the film is based on.
What holds Death on the Nile together is Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). Michael Green’s screenplay dives deeper into Poirot’s backstory as a soldier during World War 1 as a fresh shaven adult. We even get to see the mustache’s origin story – born out of necessity to save the world from those who commit heinous acts of crime. Given Branagh’s filmography, Poirot’s mustache could have his own superhero trilogy (he did direct Thor after all) – at least this time its slightly more tamed and contained to the front of his face and less distracting. But in a room full of a talented ensemble, Branagh stands out among the rest, commanding the screen with his French accent and brooding facial expressions.
Beyond Branagh, the rest of the so-called star-studded ensemble don’t add much flair or flavor to their roles. The story centers around Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot) and her picture-perfect love story and marriage to Simon Doyle (Armie hammer). Their honeymoon is used as an escape from Simon’s ex-fiancée Jackie (Emma Mackey) who somehow manages to follow the newlyweds around the globe to make their lives hell. Is this the first time someone rich had a stalker? Why doesn’t Linnet just get a restraining order? Jackie gets grouped into the couple’s honeymoon along with Linnet’s ex-fiancé Linus (Russell Brand), Andrew (Ali Fazal), Linnet’s cousin and lawyer, Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), Marie’s nurse Mrs. Bowers (Dawn French), Linnet’s maid Louise (Rose Leslie), Poirot’s friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), Bouc’s mother Euphemia (Annette Bening), a jazz singer named Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her niece and business partner Rosalie (Letitia Wright).
Maybe star-studded isn’t the right word, how many times can Gal Gadot be put in a leading role until everyone else sees how much of a bore and tiresome her performances are. Yes, she’s great as Wonder Woman in 1 of the two films, and in Red Notice to a degree, but that’s about it. Her and Armie hammer have zero chemistry together but when Emma is with Armie, the two have a spark that can’t be rivaled. There was heat and passion in that opening dance scene between the two former lovers. Gadot comes in and extinguishes the flames.
Every character in Green’s script amounts to a caricature of the high society they are supposedly representing. Do the extremely wealthy 1% just toss champagne away like its water? Oh, to be that wealthy and carefree – for them money does grow on trees. Even Branagh, who commits to the role a little too much seems out of a parody with his performance this time around. He was more subtle in Orient Express. Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in the rival Knives Out does something similar, but he still is relatable. Branagh lays it on a bit thick when the character is painstakingly attempting to inject a little humor into the gravity of the situation.
Normally, when a film gets a sequel, the budget increases for better production, costumes and better hair and makeup. Death on the Nile is full of a production design with easily spot able greenscreen and a not-so subtle lack of verisimilitude. Nothing involving the pyramids was believable – not Bouc flying a kite off the side of one nor him climbing down it with no support harness. The stylish design of the boat on the river Nile and fancy costume design aren’t sleek enough to fully distract the eye from spotting the inconsistences. I saw right through this film that says its 2 hours but felt like 3.
If Murder on the Orient Express was a serviceable whodunnit than its follow up, Death on the Nile is limping along after shooting itself in the foot. Not to take away from Kenneth Branagh’s talent behind and in front of the camera but he carries this lifeless, tiresome bore across the finish line down the Nile River to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Written By: Michael Green
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Music By: Patrick Doyle
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
My Score: 2 out of 5
Based On: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie