Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright
Run Time: 127 mins
Death On The Nile is the second of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels for Sir Kenneth Branagh to adapt and star as the revered detective. Having made his debut in Murder On The Orient Express, Poirot finds himself embroiled in yet another murder mystery when he is invited to meet his friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman) in Egypt. Bouc invites him to the wedding of Linnet ‘Linny’ Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot), a wealthy heiress and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). Simon had previously been in a relationship with Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort (Emma Mackey). Jackie still believes Simon loves her and stalks them on their trip.
To escape Jackie, all of the guests board a cruise ship, the S.S. Karnak. Linnet confides in Poirot regarding her paranoia, worried that something is going to happen to her as all of the guests would stand to gain something if the unfortunate should occur.
Death On The Nile was filmed a couple of years ago and is another victim of the coronavirus pandemic in that it is only being released now. Unfortunately, it’s had some problems on the way to release with actor Armie Hammer’s unfathomable allegations arguably accounting for some of the delay. On the plus side, Branagh’s passion project Belfast is building momentum at this year’s Awards season and if the film isn’t to scratch, it could hurt its chances.
Murder On The Orient Express had lots of problems, chiefly Branagh failing to develop any of the star-studded cast that had been assembled and putting his Poirot front and centre. Once again, Branagh is working with a talented cast including Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders to name a few. The film also had problems with its ending, which I felt cheated by, although this is more a flaw with the novel.
Death On The Nile solves some of its predecessors problems and regresses on other aspects. Starting with the positives, although Branagh’s Poirot is again very much the centre of the film, the rest of the cast have some development this time around. There are some good performances too, firstly with Branagh settling into the role with his outrageous moustache. Russell Brand’s performance is quiet and mournful, playing against type and when not saddled with poor dialogue, Gal Gadot makes the most of her role.
The film starts on more sure-footed ground, allowing an opportunity to care for the story and characters somewhat. Poirot’s double-moustache even receives a satisfying pseudo-origin story. Murder On The Orient Express began rather terribly with a mini-mystery in Jerusalem that suffered an overly sickly tone.
Unfortunately that’s about it with the positives. Death On The Nile is 127 minutes long and it takes well over an hour for its inciting murder to take place. There is a lot of needless dead weight in the first hour with lots of Egyptian sightseeing and set-up laden with some trite speeches.
Once a character meets their untimely end, the film picks up at a barreling pace. We go through the routine questioning of all of the characters and the old-fashioned second-guessing, where Branagh is in his element. The film could have done with more time to breathe here to build suspense and momentum and lost some of the fluff in its first hour.
The ear-scraping script is a major issue. Screenwriter Michael Green returns and he has some great credits to his name with films such as Logan, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049. All three films were very well-written. I didn’t take issue with Green’s script in Murder On The Orient Express but this sequel is just really not very well-written. A lot of the dialogue is on-the-nose and is littered with insensitive and unintentionally laughable lines.
Visually, the film is poor with many obvious uses of green screen. Coronavirus undoubtedly played a part but surely it would have been better to wait and shoot on-location as the visual result is often laughable. Branagh-regular Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography is also uninspired. His work on the Murder on the Orient Express was interesting at times, filming the train compartments and suspects from above, reminiscent of a Cluedo board game as we head from room to room.
Patrick Doyle’s original score was offensively bad in the first film but his score isn’t really noticeable this time around. There is, however, an overuse of jazzy blues music which is grating.
Overall, Death On The Nile is a clunky detective thriller that has its moments but suffers in critical areas. Neither of Branagh’s efforts have serviced Christie’s detective properly despite his inspired performance which has lots of potential. Serious lessons need to be learnt if this series is to thrive and arguably, a change in crew is what’s needed.