Death on the Nile (2022)
Kenneth Branagh's latest Agatha Christie novel is once again unbalanced
Kenneth Branagh is an admirable director in how easily he is able to flit between blockbusters (Thor (2011)), mid-budget films (Murder on the Orient Express (2017)), and indies (Belfast (2021)). Currently vying for an Oscar for Belfast, Branagh has released his long-delayed follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express with another Agatha Christie novel: Death on the Nile (2022).
Death on the Nile sees our famed detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) on board an Egyptian river cruise where a wealthy newlywed, (Gal Gadot) fearing jealousies and greedy wedding attendees, employs him to look out for her. However, this being a Christie story, murder comes knocking and the varied array of suspects is locked on the boat until Poirot can root out the murderer.
Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express left much to be desired, especially when compared to the star-studded original film of the 70s with Albert Finney. However, Branagh was still able to have fun and follow the mystery beats to an adequate pace. In Death on the Nile, Branagh seems intent to delve deeper into Poirot’s character, and as such begins to deviate from Christie, donning Poirot with a traumatic past. This extends into the set-up of the central mystery of the film, as we spend time slowly discovering the tensions between the ensemble characters.
While this change of pace and focus was certainly welcome given the rather glitzy and slightly rushed Murder on the Orient Express adaptation, Branagh tips too far off balance again. The murder cited in the title of the film doesn’t occur until an hour into the film, with the build-up feeling less like character development than wandering repetitions of dull suspicions. Branagh could have taken this time to slowly uncover the relationship that each of the wedding guests has to the central couple, but this is sloppily unspooled in a shameless expository speech by one of Poirot’s accomplices in thirty seconds. The result is a first hour that drags heavier than a dead body. Once we get to the actual mystery and detecting by Poirot, things do pick up and the film hits a healthy stride that it should have approached thirty minutes before.
Branagh arranges another all-star cast, much as he did in his adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. However, Branagh decides to take in some up-and-coming actors into the mix as well, giving them a much-needed spotlight after years of work in smaller projects. Emma Mackey was a particular standout as a jealous ex, and Tom Bateman, who had a small role in Murder on the Orient Express, is given more time to shine as well. I was much more disappointed with the rather wooden acting of some of the bigger names, namely the central couple of the story played by Gadot and Armie Hammer. The film spends much of its first hour revolving around them and their relationship, and yet they seemed to be missing easy character beats and lacked any chemistry between them. As for the veteran performers brought aboard, I was rather let down with how little we see of Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, and Jennifer Saunders. On the other hand, I was rather surprised by the understated and quiet role from Russell Brand as a doctor, delivering a performance unlike anything I’d seen from the British actor.
In the end, Death on the Nile is a step towards a more intriguing take on the Agatha Christie novels, but unfortunately Branagh fails to grasp a proper balance between character study and gripping mystery. Nevertheless, I would encourage the British filmmaker to continue through Christie’s works, as it is a beath of fresh air to see big-budget film adaptations of works other than comics.