CINEMA REVIEW: DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by: Michael Green
Based on: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Produced by: Ridley Scott, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Kevin J. Walsh
Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright etc.
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I was especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether the ultra-talented Rose Leslie could break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright also leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.
I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), while a bit of a guilty romp, is a favourite of mine, especially as it was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I was looking forward to the new adaptation.
Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a devious plot and surprising ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the journey of it all. But what of this latest iteration? Well, all throughout I kept channelling the fury of Annie Wilkes! If it’s not broken, why are they howdy-doody trying to fix it!
If you have never read Death of the Nile, it truly is a wonderful detective story, tightly plotted and full of biting wit and observations from Christie. There is subtle critique of English types abroad and the negative impact money, lust and envy have on the human condition. But having said that there is an exotic location, crafty humour, witty dialogue and bright sunshine illuminating the bloody murder in the novel. This is where Branagh and his screenwriter get Death of the Nile utterly wrong for me. From very off they gloom the mood and tone, lose much of the fun and introduce too many different subplots which do nothing to enhance Christie’s original work. Her novel did not need changing!
Perhaps I was just too familiar with the material or Branagh’s confident/arrogance got the better of him. Aside from some highly suspect CGI with Bouc (Tom Bateman) on the pyramids, Death of the Nile (2022), looked fantastic. But it felt hollow and drained of joy. I mean, does it matter why Poirot grew a moustache and moreover why has he suddenly become so existential and sad? Gal Gadot felt too modern as the rich victim of the story and Armie Hammer is handsome yet bland. I enjoyed Sophie Okonedo’s performance, but her character was enjoyable comic relief in the 1978 version. Otterbourne is now given unnecessary depth and musical filler as a sultry blues singer. Lastly, Emma Mackey has some fine moments as the vengeful Jackie, but I thought overall the script served the actors badly. My advice is to watch the David Suchet or 1978 version instead of this sinking cinematic vessel.