Death on the Nile is Kenneth Branagh’s second outing as the famed detective Hercule Poirot. It is also the second installment in his series of adaptations of the popular Agata Christie novels. The film opens with a WW1 sequence in black and white. You would almost think that you may have walked into a different movie altogether. But, relax, you wouldn’t have. The black and white WW1 sequence is Branagh’s attempt at giving Hercule Poirot a backstory, albeit only a glimpse. This intense and intriguing sequence helps set the tone for everything to come. The intensity of this sequence is carried over to the rest of the film.
The plot of Death on the Nile is quite simple compared to the abundance of mystery thrillers we have come to consume every year in the present day.
Gal Gadot plays a rich heiress, Linnet Ridgeway, engaged to a poor but charming man Simon Doyle played by Armie Hammer. They are on their honeymoon in Egypt, cruising along the Nile on the luxurious SS Karnak. They are joined by Linnet Ridgeway’s family and friends, who have their reasons for tagging along.
They are also followed by a jealous Jacqueline de Bellefort, Emma Mackey, and Doyle dumping her for Ridgeway. The film benefits from having a star-studded cast to help keep us guessing who the murderer might be because it would increase the chances of us getting lost in their glamour.
Ali Fazal, as Andrew Katchadourian, plays Linnet’s cousin and lawyer and gives a very compelling performance; Rose Leslie as Louise Bourget – a handmaiden to Linnet, Sophie Okonedo as Salome Otterbourne – a jazz singer, Russel Brand as Linus Windlesham – a doctor and Linnet’s former fiancé give incredible performances and help provide some health to the weakening intrigue and narrative of the film.
Even though the intensity in tone and spirit is carried over from the first sequence through the rest of the film, the intrigue certainly dampens. Perhaps it’s because we have grown accustomed to whodunits over the years because of their abundance of production, thanks to OTTs. Still, the murderer/murderers become fairly apparent halfway through the film. But, in case you aren’t as accustomed to the intrigues of a classic whodunit, you will probably get more out of this movie than others.
The cinematography of Death on the Nile is quite splendid but suffers from excessive CGI and post-production magic. We are given elaborate, exquisite shots of various sights in Egypt, such as the pyramids of Giza, Ramses statues of Abu Simbel, and the palatial interiors of Old Cataract Hotel, among others. As splendid as they are, it’s hard not to notice their artifice. But the cinematography succeeds triumphantly in the colors department.
The colors of this film pop and are vibrant, so movies these days generally aren’t. Kenneth Branagh is renowned for impressing a Shakespearean grandeur upon any film he makes. And this is no different. Its grandeur and magnificence alone make this film a worth watch in the theatres.
Whodunits of these days suffer from having a predictable plot and bland characters and, thus, generally have zero rewatch value. Death on the Nile could be clumped into that category because it doesn’t provide us with anything to come back for apart from the sprawling sequences of Egyptian sites. The characters, even though played brilliantly by the actors, are bland and forgettable; the dialogues merely serve the scene in the most elemental fashion as opposed to being something to remember and reminisce about; the intrigue becomes weaker as the plot progresses even though the reveal does feel more climactic and satisfying than expected.
To understand what a good whodunit could be like, we can look back on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. The Hateful Eight has such a tremendous rewatch value because it keeps you wanting to come back again and again for its characters, dialogues, and interactions between all the characters. You learn something new about the film and the characters with every viewing. The poetry of the cinematography and the dialogue keep wanting to come back. Even though it is well executed in terms of direction, Death on the Nile lacks a soul and spirit that a film needs to have to keep the audience coming back for more.
Overall, Death on the Nile is a decent watch on a Sunday afternoon for its sprawling spectacle of Egypt. It has enough intrigue to keep you hooked for at least one watch. Any Agatha Christie story is a blanket of comfort. Therefore, in the spirit of spending some time with Agatha Christie’s beloved characters, you could snuggle up in the theater with a box of popcorn and enjoy the ride.