Film review by Jason Day of Death on the Nile (2022), the murder-mystery based on the novel by Agatha Christie about who killed a spoilt heiress (Gal Gadot). Starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.
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Rich and haughty heiress Lynette Ridgway (Gal Gadot) impulsively marries the penniless Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), seducing him away from her best friend Jacqueline de Bellfort (Emma Mackey).
Weeks later on their Egyptian honeymoon, the two are stalked by the crazed Jacqueline and bothered by various friends and relations whom they have invited to join them on a Nile cruise. All appear to have an axe to grind with Lynette, instantly making them suspects when she is found murdered one morning.
Also onboard is renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who must identify the killer.
Review by @Reelreviewer
How can someone create one movie this year that is so great, so natural, so unaffected (that movie is Belfast, by the way) but then turn their hand to something so messy and muddled?
Well, Kenneth Branagh – a film director I admire and am left bemused by in equal measure – has managed to do just that with his second stab (excuse the pun!) adapting a famous Agatha Christie whodunnit.
His first – 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express – is a grand, elegant and (mostly) entertaining reinterpretation of Christie’s train-set book. But it is ultimately derailed by his efforts to make his movie take a different branch line to Sidney Lumet’s esteemed 1974 version.
He does the same here and one adage keeps ringing in my ear: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
As with Orient Express the action is again penned in to one set, but instead of a train we are now on a river cruiser. The problem with Nile is the same one faced by the original movie – the audience is expected to believe that mere flashes of time (literally five minutes or a few seconds) is enough for horrendous crimes to be executed and for the perpetrator to leave the scene unnoticed.
This requires sleight of hand from the director and some good camerawork, editing and production design.
As lovely-looking as the remake is, we are never once left believing that what transpires on screen could ever have been achieved, something director John Guillermin was just about able to convey in his movie.
For the requisite, ‘devastating dénouement’ when the murderers’ identities are revealed, the rogues gallery of suspects are convened. They look as bored and inconvenienced as the audience, but at least the murderers are swiftly dispatched on a bar stool, their bodies unconvincingly prop the other one up. A ridiculous sight and one that had people laughing in the cinema when I saw this movie.
The well directed and visceral prologue on the Somme adds little to the story and is too lengthy. It explains why Mr. P has such a fabulous ‘fanny tickler’ (and also why subsequently shaving it off liberates him from the past) but why not keep the ‘tach he has been so proud of cultivating, something that defines him, and just ditch the opening? It could have shaved something else off, a quarter of an hour of screen time and meant I could have gotten home earlier after a busy day at work.
Another standout scene is the jazz club dancing between Armie Hammer and Emma Mackey and Gal Gadot, with all three cutting some seriously sexy shakes on the dancefloor.
Still, this movie is shimmeringly lovely to look at. It’s all about the gorgeous visuals with a stunningly designed river cruiser (eat your heart, Viking!) that is so bright and capacious it’s practically a character in its own right.
The cast – as in Branagh’s Orient remake – neatly divide into two camps; the impressive and the instantly forgettable. Of the first, the plaudits go to Branagh’s OCD Poirot, Gadot and Mackey (Sex Education‘s Maeve) who excel with wonderful bitchery, Bening’s silly and prejudiced socialite and Sophie Okonedo’s comically horny, jazz harpy.
‘Leading’ the other side are Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, a pairing that will create a frisson of interest for British TV comedy fans but barely register for anyone else. Their characters are too ludicrous to give proper credit to. Saunder’s Madame van Schyuler – originally portrayed with scenery-chewing relish by an aged Bette Davis – is a socialist millionaire (?!) who loves giving her fortune away to any good cause…but still likes to dress to the nines and partake in a luxury cruise paid for by a pal.
Making her a lesbian with French (as her paid for companion) is a mistake as it adds an extra level of unbelievability to the narrative. Surrounded by younger and more famous people, this legendary funny duo all but vanish during the proceedings.
The rest of the cast are mere drops in a river for our extra ‘grey-celled’ interlocutor to work his way through, with an almost mute Russell Brand as Gadot’s former flame and Leslie (Downton Abbey), a hardworking and decent actress, floundering with a floppy French accent.
Interesting to note that romantic lead Hammer, who has been embroiled in a series of incredible allegations of rape, sexual misconduct and cannibalism fantasy, appears to be sidelined in some of the promotional artwork. See this great Indiwire article for why it would have been incredibly difficult for Branagh and his team to have reshot Death on the Nile with a less complicated actor.
Cast & credits
Director: Kenneth Branagh. 2hr 7min/127min. 20th Century Studios/Kinberg Genre/Scott Free Productions/TSG Entertainment/The Estate of Agatha Christie/The Mark Gordon Company. (12a).
Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh.
Writer: Michael Green.
Camera: Haris Zambarloukos.
Music: Patrick Doyle.
Sets: Jim Clay.
Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, Annette Bening, Sophie Okenedo, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Russell Brand, Letitia Wright, Tom Bateman, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal.