Death on the Nile (2022)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh | 127 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Emma Mackey, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Annette Bening, Susannah Fielding, Adam Garcia, Rick Warden, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Tom Bateman, Ali Fazal, Russell Brand, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French
Her name has long been synonymous with murder mysteries; Agatha Christie. The British writer is the most translated author of all time, selling some 3.2 billion books. Her best-known creations are the detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, characters she frequently featured in her stories and who captured the imagination of many readers. Poirot, who stars in 33 books and more than fifty short stories, is a particular mystery. The mustachioed, originally Belgian master detective has already been portrayed by several great actors on both the small and the big screen, in radio plays and on stage. These include Albert Finney, Orson Welles, Peter Ustinov, Tony Randall, David Suchet, Alfred Molina and more recently John Malkovich and Kenneth Branagh. The latter breathed new life into Christie’s oeuvre in 2017 with a new film adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Like Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film, widely regarded as the best, Branagh’s version was packed with big names like Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Olivia Colman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Branagh himself. While film critics wondered why it was necessary to produce yet another remake of Christie’s murder classic, cinema-going audiences appreciated the star vehicle because ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ rocked the box office and grossed a total of more than $350 million.
That there would also be a remake of ‘Death on the Nile’ had been announced long in advance, but the release was postponed several times due to production problems and the corona pandemic. The negative publicity surrounding one of the lead actors, Armie Hammer, also played a part in the release. In early 2021, news broke that Hammer has quite disturbing sexual preferences and was accused by several ex-girlfriends of manipulation, sexual assault, rape and even cannibalism. In the publicity campaign for ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022), including via the trailer, the role of Hammer was considerably reduced, but in the film itself he is fully present. In particular, the scene in which his character dances rather horny with his girlfriend, with the charges in mind, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Just like in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, Branagh takes on the role of Detective Poirot himself and at the beginning of the film we dive into his past, when we see how he barely manages to survive a heavy bombardment during the First World War. escape. “You’re far too smart to be a farmer,” his army captain throws at him just before disaster strikes. We also see the reason why Poirot has remained alone ever since; his great love dies during the war. Flash forward to twenty years later, in a London club in 1937 where a lost Poirot witnesses the development of a fatal triangle romance. Where Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) was first passionate about the dance floor with Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), his attention soon shifts to her childhood friend, the wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) in her striking silver dress. In the club, blues singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) sings the stars of heaven (in the original story, Salome is a writer, by the way). She and her manager (and niece) Rosalie (Letitia Wright) reunite six weeks later at the chic Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, where Simon marries Linnet and the recently dumped Jacqueline disrupts the party. .
The newlywed couple sets off on a Nile cruise, taking a select group with them. Besides Salome and Rosalie are also Linnet’s maid Louise (Rose Leslie), the aristocratic doctor and ex-fiancée of the bride Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand, almost unrecognizable, so serious), the mysterious “cousin” and lawyer Andrew (Ali Fazal) and Linnet’s eccentric godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and her nurse Bowers (Dawn French) aboard. Poirot’s charming right-hand man Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his mother Euphemia (Annette Bening) are also present. At first sight a motley crew, but the characters could have (and should have) come out a little better. Their mutual relationships are not always clear and the motives they each have – revenge, money, jealousy – don’t feel urgent enough to make the viewer crawl on the edge of his seat. Moments where a crucial plot element is revealed are often rushed. In the 1978 film adaptation, we saw the murder mystery unfold step by step, but here screenwriter Michael Green seems so afraid of missing the boat that he flies through the story. But what really kills the film is the fact that all the lightheartedness and wit that make Christie’s stories so enjoyable has been sucked out of the screenplay. The witty remarks to and fro between the old Mrs. Van Schuyler and her nurse, for example (then you have French & Saunders on board and then you hardly use them…!). Incidentally, the 1978 film had Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in these roles; even a thriving French & Saunders couldn’t have matched that.
What this version of ‘Death on the Nile’ also encounters is that the film was so obviously shot in the studio. The ancient pyramids of Giza, the huge statues of Ramses at Abu Simbel; Branagh’s Egypt just doesn’t come to life. And that goes for his characters too. Only the backstory around Poirot itself is interesting; where does his melancholy, distant attitude come from and why has he always remained alone? We even learn the story behind his distinctive mustache! But otherwise Branagh continues the trend he started with ‘Murder on the Orient Express’; all the ‘fun’ from the original by Agatha Christie is squeezed out and a dry, humorless and toothless whole remains. Then Rian Johnson did it a lot better with his murder mystery ‘Knives Out’ (2019)!