Mystery fans and anyone who loves river-filling quantities of champagne should find Death on the Nile to be a trip worth taking.

Film Review: Death on the Nile

Film Reviews

Death on The Nile
Director: Kenneth Branagh

Scott Free Productions
In Theaters 02.11

It’s a good week to be Kenneth Branagh. The acclaimed actor-director’s autobiographical film, Belfast, secured seven Oscar nominations, and Branagh himself set a career record for the most nominations for an individual in multiple categories. He’s also finally seeing his long adrift epic Death on the Nile finally sail into port. The last of those bragging points may be the least, but it is an achievement nonetheless.

Death on the Nile, based on the novel by Agatha Christie, finds Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (Branagh) vacationing in Egypt aboard a glamorous river steamer. As is often the case with vacationing detectives, Poirot finds himself smack dab in the middle of a crime scene when a perfect young couple, Simon and Linnet (Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot), find their honeymoon cut tragically short by a brutal murder. Everyone on board the steamer ship is a suspect, and as the ship is filled with the couple’s wedding party, there’s plenty of anger and resentment going around (because let’s be honest, a wedding is basically just an excuse to gather everyone who bears a grudge against you together in one place so you can throw your happiness in their face). As the victims start to pile up, Poirot finds himself faced with a case that challenges him as it reopens old wounds.  

Branagh shot the film in 65mm and makes great use of the IMAX presentation, giving Death on the Nile a grandiose and visually marvelous feel that harkens back to more old-fashioned epics while making use of modern, stylistic touches. Death on the Nile opens with a black-and-white flashback to Poirot’s days as a soldier in the trenches of World War I, and while two backstories explaining the origins of his mustache were not something anyone needed, it’s a good sequence that adds emotional heft to the character’s personal journey. 

Branagh, who previously directed and starred in Murder of the Orient Express, once again fills the cast chock full of stars, the brightest of them being the glamorous Gadot, who adds a lot to the movie. Hammer, in what is likely to be at the very least his final big-budget Hollywood film, does sold work, but it’s more than problematic to have an actor who is embroiled in sordid and incredibly bizarre sex scandals playing a character whose plot is driven by almost entirely by sex, jealousy and issues of fidelity. The movie couldn’t have asked for a more distracting presence. When you consider that Johnny Depp being in Orient Express was a lesser problem but a genuine one, in the unlikely event that Branagh makes a third Poirot film, he really needs to make a hard and fast rule against casting anyone who was in The Lone Ranger

Annette Benning, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders really shine in their roles, as does Emma Mackey (Sex Education), and the cast in general is very strong. I did find it odd that I had an easier time pushing aside Hammer’s baggage and Letitia Wright breaking my heart with her anti-vaxxer stance than I did with Sophie Okenedos unforgivable sin of playing a major character on Ratched, but I plan to dedicate a sizable portion of the rest of my life to hating that show.

Death on the Nile is a bit too long and drifts without propellant, but Branagh’s little gray cells, which are so focused on enthusiasm for the material and bold choices in regards to cinematography, keep the movie on course. Editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle is one of the best in the business, and she and Branagh build the tension in the final act with expert precision.

Mystery fans and anyone who loves exotic locales and large format films should find Death on the Nile to be a trip worth taking. It’s not going to put Branagh back in Oscar territory again next year, but it’s not trying to be that kind of film, and it achieves what it’s going for nicely. It’s hardly a career highlight, but it’s another worthy entry in the artist’s unique filmography.