Death on the Nile Review: Kenneth Branagh's movie filled with sparkling suspects runs out of steam swiftly
Inspite of Kenneth Branagh breathing empathetic light to famed private detective Hercule Poirot, alongside an array of intriguing, unusual suspects, Death on the Nile drowns in its lacklustre script. Read Pinkvilla's review below.
Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Ali Fazal
Death on the Nile Director: Kenneth Branagh
Death on the Nile Stars: 3/5
Aboard the elite and lavish S.S. Karnak, across the neverending River Nile, multiple unusual suspects are on the scrupulous radar of celebrated private detective Hercule Poirot, as dead bodies drop inside the steamer like a stack of cards. Death on the Nile is an iconic Agatha Christie murder mystery, loved by millions, which has had two classic earlier reiterations and this time, Kenneth Branagh tries to add his own contemporary twist to it. But does he succeed? Let's find out.
For those unaware, in Death on the Nile, lusty lovebirds Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) spend their honeymoon with pretty much everyone who's ever dispised Linnet, basically for being rich, gorgeous and ultra famous. Also joining them is Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), who is conveniently placed as multiple murders occur inside S.S. Karnak and all those alive are primary suspects, as everyone has a motive to kill. I won't spoil the ones who are murdered, but what is the main narrative arc is the intricate love triangle between Linnet, Simon and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), Linnet's best friend and Simon's disgruntled, jealous ex-fiancée.
As for the other suspects in Death on the Nile, we have Dr. Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), who happened to be Linnet's former fiance ailing a broken heart, Linnet's smart-witted cousin and family lawyer Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), Linnet's suspiciously innocent maid, boss ladies Salome Otterbourne and her niece Rosalie Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright), as a famed jazz player and her brazen yet intellectual niece-turned-manager, Linnet's wealth-loathing godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and her abling nurse Mrs. Bowers (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French). Also on the ride, we have Poirot's trusted friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, who we were first introduced to in the 2017 hit Murder of the Orient Express, of which Death on the Nile is a sequel of), alongside his witty, sharp-tongued mother Euphemia (Annette Bening), also a famous painter.
Fresh off the boat is the spectacular performances by the entire ensemble of Death on the Nile, particularly Kenneth, who manages to infuse new empathetic life to the beloved detective, without it being too forced, yet a tad too draggy. Adding a tragic backstory (wonderfully shot in black and white with World War I as the setting) behind the origins of his infamous moustache was a clever beginning to the film. Alas, that's where the creativity behind the otherwise lacklustre, slower than slow burn Michael Green screenplay ends. Given a large number of suspects, you would assume that there would be ample time given to each of the characters and their backstories, however, by the time the murders even occur, you're distracted beyond belief. And the very fact that more attention was stolen by Poirot's character arc than the actual murder mystery would definitely irk lovers of the genre.
Speaking of the rest of the Death on the Nile cast, it's Letitia and Sophie, who steal the show with their sassy, powerful characters, and are deservedly bestowed with the memorable one-liners while Gal and Emma chalk up delightfully on bringing the right steamy-ness and overt jealousy to the doomed love triangle, "love" being the overall theme behind the mystery! It's specifically in their introductory dance sequences where the beautiful, talented women shine the brightest. Costume designers Paco Delgado and JobanJit Singh leave no stone unturned in giving both these characters their grand entrances in exquisite dresses. Even Ali impresses, especially with his believable British accent while Tom, Annette, Jennifer and Dawn bring forward a familial touch to the storyline, in an artistic fashion. Russell keeps his comedic roots in the backburner and goes for a straight-faced downer of performance while Rose isn't as enchanting as we'd expect her to be. Though, with no fault of their own!
As I mentioned before, Michael's uninspired screenplay of Death on the Nile didn't have the palatable spiciness you'd expect from an Agatha Christie murder mystery, inspite of a few honest laughs here and there. You're able to decipher who the killer is from a mile away, while the foreshadowing moments planted is a bit too obvious for my liking. In comparison, Murder on the Orient Express was a quirkier watch. The 2022 version takes creative liberties from the novel in certain aspects like people of colour playing a few characters and there's also toeing the line with casual throwaways to racism and sexism, though just a barely scratched surface that isn't nourished enough. While the overindulgent CGI sequences aren't something one can negate easily, the more intricate look at the glorious Pyramids and Abu Silem is glorious to witness, courtesy of Jim Clay's acute production design and Haris Zamarloukous' intimate cinematography. Specifically, it was the magnificent S.S. Karnak that genuinely takes your breath away, even when scarred with blood marks. Moreover, I was personally a fan of the music by Patrick Doyle, which became an intriguing character in itself.
In finality, it's not until the final 20 minutes of Death on the Nile that the diminishing steam reignites and the mystery is solved, but a little too late. Instead, the movie just makes the wait game for Knives Out 2 unbearable!