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Death on the Nile Movie Review

Death on the Nile (2022) movie poster Death on the Nile

Theatrical Release: February 11, 2022

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Michael Green (screenplay); Agatha Christie (novel)

Cast: Tom Bateman (Bouc), Annette Bening (Euphemia Bouc), Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Russell Brand (Windlesham), Ali Fazal (Katchadourian), Dawn French (Bowers), Gal Gadot (Linnet Ridgeway), Armie Hammer (Simon Doyle), Rose Leslie (Louise Bourget), Emma Mackey (Jacqueline de Bellefort), Sophie Okonedo (Salome Otterbourne), Jennifer Saunders (Marie Van Schuyler), Letitia Wright (Rosalie Otterbourne)

 

Earlier this week, Kenneth Branagh picked up his sixth, seventh, and eighth Academy Award nominations of his long career. They came for Belfast, his somewhat autobiographical coming-of-age tale of growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. It'd be easy to accept Branagh as simply a prestige filmmaker, for having been on the Oscars' radars for more than thirty years. But Branagh's latest turn on both sides of the camera is no prestige film.
Death on the Nile is a sequel to 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, the Agatha Christie adaptation that employed Branagh as director, producer, and showy leading man.

Though the fall of 2017 feels like a lifetime ago after nearly two full years of pandemic response, distributor 20th Century Fox had good reason to greenlight a sequel with Branagh again at the helm. Orient Express grossed over $350 million worldwide on a modest budget of just $55 M. Critical reaction was fairly muted, especially compared to the Shakespearean dramas that once were Branagh's bread and butter. But the classically trained Brit had already grown comfortable as a director for hire on mainstream fare like Marvel's Thor, Disney's live-action Cinderella, and Paramount's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The prospect of further honing his skills as a commercially formidable helmer while simultaneously getting to sink his teeth into the juicy role of Hercule Poirot, the colorful private eye who has already won over countless readers, television watchers, and moviegoers presumably was an easy sell to Branagh. Now, he's doing it all over again in a film that was clearly shot prior to the global outbreak of COVID (and prior to Belfast) but which finally arrives now, long since Fox was swallowed up by Disney and box office success became so elusive.

The lavish Egyptian wedding of Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Linett Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) brings about the events of the Agatha Christie murder mystery "Death on the Nile."

The very nature of Christie's mysteries ensures that Branagh would be the only principal holdover from Orient Express, although screenwriter Michael Green (returning as well) also comes up with a way for Poirot's friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) to feature again. Poirot runs into Bouc flying a kite on the great pyramids of Egypt. Our first impression is that this is a remarkable chance meeting, but alas, there are few coincidences in the world of Poirot. The private eye is enlisted by attractive newlyweds Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer, pre-cancellation), to help them deal with Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), the former classmate of wealthy heiress Linnet and the former lover of noveau riche Simon. Jacqueline is anything but okay with the hasty romance and union. Hercreepy looming knows no bounds and follows the couple to their honeymoon cruise on the Nile.

The wedding party also includes Linnet's godmother Marie and her nurse/companion Mrs. Bowers (the longtime comedy duo of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French on arguably their biggest shared stage in Hollywood to date), hired jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) and her niece (Letitia Wright); Linnet's cousin/lawyer Andrew (Ali Fazal); Linus (Russell Brand, inexplicably returning to acting after nearly a decade away), a doctor to whom Linnet was previously engaged; and Bouc's mother Euphemia (Annette Bening), a respected painter.

When a very important member of the wedding party turns up dead, everyone is a suspect and the flamboyantly mustachioed Poirot treats them as such, establishing a potential motive for all and questioning them with unmasked suspicion.

Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) takes in the sight of the Great Pyramids of Egypt before spotting a friend in "Death on the Nile."

Nearly doubling its predecessor's budget to $90 million, Death sports some stellar production values and striking cinematography from Branagh's go-to DP Haris Zambarloukos. Whether in the desert at sunset or on the river at night, the movie looks terrific and Zambarloukos' imagery is the undisputed star.

The rest of the sequel lands in the same mid-level comfort zone of the previous effort. The cast is not as assured and spellbinding as Orient's lineup that included Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and since-cancelled Johnny Depp. Poirot is not a character you approach with restraint and once again, Branagh doesn't give him any. It's an at times amusing performance with more prominence than even male sexagenarians enjoy and though more than a little hammy, Branagh serves the part well.
Those around him are less easy to acquit. Gadot's stock has fallen sharply since 2017 and this does nothing to reverse the damage done by her much-ridiculed celebrity "Imagine" sing-along and widely panned Wonder Woman 1984. By comparison, Hammer and his perfectly sufficient British accent seem far more at ease. Alas, the dirty laundry of his now public indiscretions and predilections ensure this is the last time we'll see him in such prominence anytime soon, which is more than the strategic trailers let on.

No one else really shines, nor does Branagh really give them the chance to, what with a completely superfluous prologue giving Poirot's mustache a ridiculous origin story. (That's not a joke.) Branagh has always seemed to be his own favorite actor and this franchise gives him the greatest license to run with that instinct since probably his 1994 Frankenstein did nearly thirty years ago. Death on the Nile won't win the assortment of accolades his merely inoffensive Belfast has and it will likely struggle to repeat the financial impact of Orient Express. But there isn't much to take issue with here in this handsome production (mostly not converted to black and white) and reasonably compelling mystery aimed squarely at adults at a time when their other options are a J-Lo romcom that didn't screen for critics here and yet another Jackass movie.

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Directed by Kenneth Branagh: Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Belfast Thor Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Cinderella

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Reviewed February 13, 2022.



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