Popcorn Picks: “Death on the Nile” struggles to stay afloat


Photo credit/ Jen Flynn

“Death on the Nile” had a budget of $90 million, nearly double its predecessor.

As a fan of Agatha Christie and her enchanting mystery novels, 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” was an absolute delight to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s directing and acting as the quirky detective Hercules Poirot. At the end of that film, it was teased and then directly announced that the next Poirot film would be an adaptation of “Death on the Nile.”

Kenneth Branagh returned to direct and star in this film, set in the 1930s on a boat in the Nile River. The film, interestingly enough, starts miles away from where it will be set for the remainder of its 127 minute runtime.

The film starts in London, 1937. Poirot is at a jazz club after another case has been solved, enjoying music by the talented Salome Otterborne (Sophie Okonedo). A few characters are vaguely introduced, including Salome’s niece and agent Rosalie (Letitia Wright), star crossed lovers Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), and magnetic heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Jacqueline and Simon are engaged and Linnet is old friends with both Rosalie and Jacqueline. A chemistry spark is ignited between Linnet and Simon, though, during a steamy dance.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gal Gadot’s entrance into the film: the lighting, music, cinematography and style felt straight out of a silver screen classic. The entire jazz club scene was delightful and enchanting. The dances were raunchy, passionate and captivating. The only drawback was Armie Hammer.

Hammer was the center of a social media conspiracy and a whirlwind of allegations of abuse, sexual assault, and even murder or cannibalism. While these allegations haven’t been proven, having such a controversial figure as one of the main characters feels weird. It was also extremely uncomfortable due to the way his character treats women. However, Hammer not being removed centers around two factors: the pandemic shutting down production and the fact that, as a main character, reshooting was nearly impossible.

Hammer isn’t the only controversial actor in this film. “Death on the Nile” could be considered a who’s who of canceled celebrities. Letitia Wright came under fire after remarks against the COVID-19 vaccines. Russell Brand, who plays Linnet’s former love Dr. Windelsham, has spoken out against vaccine mandates, and was the subject of public ire after his divorce from singer Katy Perry. Gal Gadot’s views on Israel and Palestine have also pegged her as another controversial addition to the cast.

Despite this, the movie was decent. Due to its large budget, early parts of the movie look incredible. While it’s not certain if the COVID-19 pandemic shutting production down is a cause for some of the less than spectacular elements of the movie, they still are worth noting. The movie relies too heavily on CGI landscapes of Egypt and the Nile River. At first, this is fine when used to set the scene, but it becomes tedious when the tenth shot of the river has been played to show a time change. It gets to the point where it feels appropriate to say “we get it, they’re on the Nile. Let’s get back to the plot.”

I thought the plot was brilliant, though that is really more of a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie. The acting was first class as well. Plot twists and tension was rife throughout the story. However, my one plot twist related gripe is the death of Bouc, Poirot’s friend. It felt like a cheap way to reveal that there were two killers instead of one. It was very sad but felt unnecessary. I liked Bouc’s character too, but I knew as soon as he talked about turning his life around to be a good man for Rosalie that he was as good as dead.

Overall, this film was a nice escape from the outside world for two hours. However, it fell sort of flat for me. I enjoyed it and would probably watch it again, but the intense mystery that “Murder” had just didn’t translate to this adaptation. After knowing the identity of the killers, it all seemed rather obvious, whereas with the reveal in “Murder,” my jaw was on the floor. Part of a good mystery is never really knowing who did it until it’s revealed.

I do hope that Branagh continues to adapt Christie’s novels to the big screen. I admire his vision and theme that he brings to the stories. If there is a next Hercules Poirot film, though, let’s hope for better, unproblematic casting, less CGI, and that there won’t be another global pandemic to disrupt things again.

Rating: 6/10 kernels

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