Jump on board and let Death on the Nile take you on a well-crafted mystery.
This review of the film Death on the Nile (2022) does not contain spoilers.
I was quite taken with Belfast director Kenneth Branagh’s updated version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. A murder mystery that offered a heaping spoonful of claustrophobic suspense with a killer finale. Not to mention, the film had one of the finest collections of actors you will ever see. Offering the most expensive plot camouflages in Hollywood history, Branagh’s follow-up, Death on the Nile (2022), has a cast here that is top-heavy without the same star power. Yet, the film is so well-acted, produced, and directed you’ll forget about the apparent ending that has been repeated a hundred times over. Somehow, he manages to keep the viewer, even the most experienced cinephile, on the edge of their seats.
Branagh’s Poirot follows up the case of the murderous train ride with a visit to a jazz club where he lays his eyes on a couple of real dames. A sultry redhead is madly in love, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey). She offers a plunging neckline for Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) only. The other woman is a wealthy heiress named Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Tall, beautiful, and looking like the living Cleopatra herself. Unfortunately for Jacqueline, as she begs Linnet to hire Simon as a hotel manager her family owns, Simon and Linnet have an immediate attraction to one another. Poirot can spot that through that humid, smoke-filled room with both eyes closed.
Months later, when the mustached detective is viewing the pyramids in Egypt, he runs across his old friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman). Besides flying a kite on top of the ancient relics, he has accompanied his mother Euphemia (Annette Benning), to a wedding reception on the Nile. As Poirot attends them back to the hotel, he sees the happy couple. But Jacqueline shows up to ruin the wedding, which is nothing new since she keeps staking them. Linnet feels threatened by her former friend and everyone at the wedding because of her money. When they move the wedding reception to a luxury riverboat, she hires the detective to watch her back. Only now, one of the guests turns up dead. Poirot must solve the case on who cut the couple’s honeymoon short.
Branagh is again working with an exquisite Hollywood mainstream script from scribe Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049, and, unfortunately, Green Lantern). Part of the fun besides trying to figure out which character is on their last sea legs, also Poirot seems to have an ulterior motive for being there. All the characters are well-drawn. Almost all of them have pocket mysteries before the real fun begins. While they may be red herrings, they offer intriguing possibilities that keep the viewer guessing.
As I mentioned above, the cast here may offer lower-end star wattage than the first film (Brand is not exactly Dafoe, nor is Leslie exactly Dench). Besides the leads and the great Annette Benning, the rest are on the same level playing field, leading to many suspects. Even Brand is remarkably restrained here, and a stand-out is The Wheel of Time’s Sophie Okonedo, as jazz singer Salome Otterbourne. However, Emma Mackey’s vivacious turn is the bitter Ms. de Bellefort that turns heads. She is a star in the making.
What sells the Death on the Nile experience is not only his steady hand as a director or Green’s script offering a backstory that establishes a remarkable amount of depth but Branagh’s wonderful, nuanced turn as Poirot. He can be funny, goofy, charming while offering a breathtaking amount of deductive reasoning while being surprisingly moving. Think of his powerful turn during the first film’s finale as he unveils the mystery. Here, it’s not just the mystery that builds, but what has been boiling inside the detective since the film’s start. By the third act, the legendary character suffers a tremendous personal loss. This happens to be where Branagh is at his best as he shows excellent strength and eye-opening vulnerability.
Death on the Nile may not be as engrossing and suspenseful as Murder on the Orient Express. Still, this is a solid popcorn movie entertainment that is a smart and effective mystery. Jump on board, enjoy the ride of where the well-crafted mystery takes you.
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