Death on the Nile
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Gal Godot, Tom Bateman and Armie Hammer
By Tim Basaraba
When Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017) was announced, I didn’t do my normal eyeroll and say to myself, “ANOTHER remake?” I was excited to see a new “whodunnit” with an ensemble cast. Knives Out broke the mold and delivered one of my favorite films of 2019, could Branagh’s second attempt also deliver?
Having never seen a single Agatha Christie adaptation, I didn’t have high expectations to meet, which was good because the film wasn’t great. But it was entertaining. Seeing a young Hercule Poirot open the film was a pleasant surprise, and this World War I scene goes on to resonate throughout the story which takes place 20 years after the War. Kenneth Branagh is the most interesting character much as he was in Orient Express. His cadance, accent and delivery are what held my attention throughout the film. A whirlwind of characters vied for my attention after the open scene, but isn’t that part of the fun of these ensemble mystery films? But, without a great actor as the lead character, sometimes things get muddy. No mud here. Just a strong lead that continually pulled me back into the mystery as it meandered through the plot and geographical locations from London to Egypt.
The ensemble is filled with great actors who skillfully portrayed their characters’ quirks with relatively small amounts of screentime. Oddly enough, among the best are the three actors who are currently persona non grata: Letitia Wright, Armie Hammer and Russell Brand. If you aren’t up to date on the fuss currently surrounding these actors, count yourself lucky to not be on #filmtwitter daily. If there are, however, any weak links in this ensemble, it’s Emma Mackey and Gal Gadot. Each plays an integral character, but they don’t play it well. The rest of the cast understands that this is a period piece, but these two seem to think it’s just a long-form tik tok stream.
The sets and “locations” seem very Old Hollywood—the kind where we, the viewer, are supposed to suspend disbelief. In the past, this suspension came by not being too distracted by matte-painted backgrounds or a plastic shrub. This time around, we need to forgive the video game quality CGI of the exterior shots. Could this film look better if it was actually filmed on the Nile? For sure. But a murder mystery needs one thing over all else to work, and that is a MYSTERY. As I stated above, I have not viewed an Agatha Christie adaptation prior to Orient Express. I will also add I have not read any of her novels. So this, the mystery of Death on the Nile, worked well and kept me engaged. I hope they green light a third with Kenneth Branagh at the helm and playing the best part of these mysteries: the complex Hercule Poirot.
If fellow whodunnits Gosford Park (2001) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017) are a B and C respectively and Knives Out (2019) was an A. Then I would be in “DeNile” if I didn’t give this film a B-.