Kenneth Branagh’s “Death on the Nile”, which is finally released after a rather long period of delay due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is a bland and joyless product which did not refresh me much at last night. I happened to be pretty exhausted due to having quite a busy day at my workplace, and I was accordingly ready for any chance for fun, but I was only disappointed as being more aware of many artificial aspects of the movie.
As many of you know, the movie is based on the famous mystery novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, and it is mostly faithful to Christie’s novel, but it strikes a wrong chord right from its prologue scene set in a battlefield of the World War I. I will not go into details here, but I tell you instead that Branagh and his screenplay writer Michael Green attempt to bring more backstory into his detective hero Hercules Poirot, and the result is pretty awkward and distracting for several good reasons. While we get to know a bit more about what happened between Poirot and his lover in the past, we also get to learn of how the hell he came to have that big and ridiculous mustache, but, unfortunately, these elements do not enhance our brilliant detective character that much while only making the movie feel gloomy and ponderous.
Anyway, the main story starts from the point not long after the final scene of Branagh’s previous Poirot film “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017). Our detective hero has just returned to London after solving some difficult case in Egypt, and then he happens to spot an interesting triangle relationship when he is spending one evening at a local night club. At first, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) are a young couple clearly in passionate love, but then the situation is quickly changed when Jacqueline’s immensely wealthy friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) enters the scene later, and our detective hero instinctively senses a certain kind of trouble as observing what is going on among these three figures.
Several months later, Poirot is supposedly enjoying a holiday in Egypt, but then he encounters his young friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who has also been spending some free time in Egypt along with his painter mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). When Bouc subsequently has Poirot meet Linnet again, Linnet is now married to Simon, and she and Simon are having their honeymoon trip in Egypt, but, of course, there is a big problem for them. They have been followed by Jacqueline since Simon left Jacqueline before marrying Linnet, and Jacqueline shows up again while looking quite vengeful as expected.
As Poirot gets himself more involved in this problematic circumstance, it turns out that Jacqueline is not the only one who does not like Linnet, and we get to know a number of other characters surrounding Linnet. For example, we see a nobleman doctor still struggling with his complicated personal feelings toward Linnet, and then we meet a shady cousin of Linnet who is also a lawyer managing Linnet’s assets, and then there is also a haughty old lady who does not hide her left-wing political belief at all in front of Linnet and others even though she is actually Linnet’s godmother.
Everyone except Jacqueline soon comes to a big ship sailing along the Nile, and then, as many of you have already expected, a murder occurs not long after Jacqueline gets on the ship somehow, so Poirot comes forward for solving the case. It is apparent that somebody on the ship committed that murder, but the most likely suspect happens to have an undeniable alibi, and he may have to focus on others on the ship, who all have each own motive for that murder.
Around that narrative point, we are supposed to be more intrigued and interested, but the movie only comes to slouch as flatly going through a series of blunt questioning scenes conducted by our detective hero, who looks glummer and more serious as the situation becomes more complicated along the story. As Poirot delves more into his suspects, Green’s screenplay tries some modern touches including the ones associated with racism and homophobia, but these story elements merely remain on the surface level, and we just simply wait more for the eventual scene where our detective hero is going to explain everything in front of his possible suspects.
As he did in “Murder on the Orient Express”, Branagh assembles a group of various performers here. While Branagh holds the center in a rather perfunctory fashion, his main cast members try as much as they can do with their broad archetype roles, and they mostly succeed to varying degrees. Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, who has become a disagreeable figure as much as Johnny Depp for being recently accused of sexual abuses, and Emma Mackey are believable in their characters’ unnerving triangle relationship, and the notable cast members including Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright are also well-cast on the whole, though they still look less impressive compared to the big stars of John Guillermin’s 1978 film which is also based on the same novel.
In conclusion, “Death on the Nile” is less enjoyable even compared to Branagh’s previous Poirot film, and I doubt whether he will make more Poirot movies in the future. Although his recent Oscar-nominated film “Belfast” (2021) has been criticized for being rather plain and simple, that little modest movie is much better than his two Poirot flicks in my humble opinion, so I sincerely recommend you check it out instead.