In DEATH ON THE NILE, murder and mystery never take a vacation as famed detective Hercule Poirot finds his Egyptian getaway disrupted by sinister plots and violent murder. Trapped aboard a luxury yacht, cruising the river Nile, Poirot is at the center of a less-than-blissful wedding party. An heiress and her new groom are surrounded by not-so-well wishers, jilted former lovers, and jealous relatives, with danger lurking around every corner. Poirot is on the case.
Kenneth Branagh returns to the role Hercule Poirot in this sequel to the 2017 mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. In the proud tradition of star-studded whodunnits, Branagh is joined by Emma Mackey, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal, and Sophie Okonedo, and on a slightly bummer note is also joined by Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, and Letitia Wright. To call this grouping a mixed bag is a massive understatement.
The previous Poirot mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, was a luxurious and decadently designed intrigue that made the most out of its considerable star power. Despite its close adherence to the tested formula, DEATH ON THE NILE hits a hollower note. For all of its blustering on love, the film is most lacking in the heart department.
That being said, any Hercule Poirot mystery is a good mystery and Kenneth Branagh continues to excel as the quirky literary icon. DEATH ON THE NILE endeavors to peek behind the curtain of our enigmatic hero, revealing a somewhat tragic – though, it’s really too vague to know for sure – Poirot origin story. The narrative choice is a bit of a stumble and offers the audience a bit too much of what was never asked for. From scene to scene and at the business of solving a murder, however, Branagh brings the same intrigue that made the Poirot of Murder on the Orient Express so damn interesting.
The rest of the cast provides a lot for the audience to chew on… not necessarily in a good way. Let’s start with the obvious. Actual ‘Cannibal’ Armie Hammer is an awkward presence in this sexually charged tale of bloody murder. It’s difficult to look past Gadot and Wright and find characters to root for when the perception of the performers has soured so greatly. To put it plainly, DEATH OF THE NILE is fighting an uphill battle out the gate with its population of problematic players.
Bad casting politics aside, the ensemble is incredibly strong and very fun to watch. The star-packed murder model holds for yet another film. While there are fewer standout and memorable performances in DEATH OF THE NILE, the efforts of the ensemble take the viewer on a pleasant ride.
Where DEATH OF THE NILE is most disappointing is in the story itself. Similar to Murder on the Orient Express, the passengers of the Nile cruise are bound together by a single thread. Love. Love unrequited. Love that turns to madness. Love that compels one person to cover for another. It’s a melodramatic choice that is further cheapened by a distinct lack of chemistry. The entire mystery depends on an audience’s buy-in to the all-consuming love that these characters have and yet none of it translates on-screen. Without that emotional tether, the story of DEATH ON THE NILE meanders into “meh.”
It’s a real shame that the story is so hollow because every shot in DEATH ON THE NILE is a fantasy. Every costume, every set, and every moment is stunningly beautiful. It’s a big-screen spectacle without the necessary romance and magic to carry it off.
Fans of Branagh’s Hercule Poirot will welcome the hero’s return to the screen, in spite of his unfortunate fellows. Here’s hoping that DEATH ON THE NILE was the unfortunate, but necessary stumble required to put this series on the proper stride.
DEATH ON THE NILE cruises into theaters on February 11, 2022.
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