Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriter: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Emma Mackey, Russell Brand, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal, and Sophie Okonedo
Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos
Based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel of the same name, Death on the Nile by Kenneth Branagh hits theaters this Friday, February 11, 2022. It’s the latest entry in the whodunit genre, produced by Kenneth Branagh, Ridley Scott, Judy Hofflund, and Kevin J. Walsh. With a production team like that, how could this feature be anything less than exceptional?
The story follows world-renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) as he embarks on a lavish Egyptian vacation. Invited by his friend Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman), a group of travelers set out to commemorate the union of Linnet (Gal Gadot) and Simon (Armie Hammer). What begins as a glamorous celebration of a picture-perfect marriage ends in a tragic death of a vacationer. And as the search for the cunning murderer slowly unravels, Poirot must find the killer before they strike again.
Death on the Nile is the direct follow-up to Branagh’s 2017 feature Murder on the Orient Express. Like its predecessor, the feature is full of thrilling moments that locked in my attention from beginning to end. Yet, it is not without its problems. The film is slow to get to the brink of its murder mystery, which normally wouldn’t be a problem for me. Slow burns like this are usually intentional, after all. In this case, the pace helped with introducing the characters. It also assisted with building a formidable ambiance, akin to an unavoidable terror. Yet, this good old-fashioned whodunit quickly became uneventful thanks to the acting. As a result, every minute – all 127 of them – were felt.
If you’re like me, and these films excite you anyway, there’s a moment in which you can get past the acting. It will be painstakingly obvious when that instance presents itself. After all, this isn’t necessarily an ensemble problem. There are only a few that can’t match the intense energy of their characters, colleagues, or script. Gal Gadot, for example, isn’t a convincing Linnet. Her line delivery and conviction were severely lacking. In moments that demanded sheer panic and hysteria, Gadot presented glossy eyes and a strange look of bewilderment. It was lackluster, leading me to question her range. And it simply wasn’t enough for this character.
Did the dull acting have anything to do with standing opposite of Armie Hammer’s Simon Doyle? It’s a reasonable question that my brain could not shake. But Hammer looked like he was in his element. He turned up the heat when it was needed while shying away in the shadows the next. But Gadot and Hammer together was something like a cardboard pairing. What a disappointment when the entire setting is supposed to be based on their love. Moreover, when you compare Hammer’s interactions with Emma Mackey (Jacqueline and Simon’s former lover), the steam rolls out of the screen. So, I do have to question what Branagh saw in the former matchup.
Kenneth Branagh, on the opposite end, is a standout. You can tell he loves the Poirot character by the way he portrayed him. The growth of this character from Orient Express to this follow-up is one of my favorite character arcs when it comes to sequels. Thanks to Michael Green’s creative pen, the film adds more color to the already vibrant character. Additionally, KB brought affecting emotion and humanity to a character whose nature grew to all facts and no feeling. This character juxtaposition and evolution is something special. And he delivers this performance with poise.
Stand-out characters and performances aside, this is a fantastic showcase of storytelling. With stellar choices behind Branagh’s lens, Death on the Nile is a directorial triumph. The opening sequence provided more insight into detective Poirot’s psyche. The inquisition and interrogation of each guest were attention-grabbing. These are examples when Branagh’s feature captivates with suave perfection. Paired with Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography, it’s hard to look away from this gorgeous feature. Even when a scene did not concentrate on unraveling the mystery, the compositions depict the aura with precise yet intricate details, keeping my eyes glued to the screen. In other words, director Kenneth Branagh wasted not a single frame.
When I reflect on Death on the Nile as a whole, there is one unmistakable truth that I cannot let go of. This feature is very good despite the acting restrictions from the cast. It does take a while to get past the lack of on-screen chemistry for certain actors. But Branagh provides plenty of side entertainment to make us forget it. And that’s good enough for me.