By Marc S. Sanders

It’s time for the murder mystery to maintain an ongoing trend in modern films.  They’re just fun to watch and play with and deduce.  Why do you think the board game Clue has lasted so long in so many households?  Films like Rian Johnson’s Knives Out and a recent retelling of Murder On The Orient Express have already whetted our appetites for the “who done it?” tales.  Endless variations of Sherlock Holmes continue to appear.  Even Steve Martin and Martin Short have gotten in on the mystery circuit.  Adam Sandler with Jennifer Aniston, too.  Kenneth Branagh’s second time as Hercule Poirot (following …Orient Express), in an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile, is proof positive that the sleuth is the next super hero that movie goers should follow.

Branagh returns to direct his detective character in Egypt, aboard a privately rented boat occupied by the newly engaged couple, Lynette Ridgeway and Simon Doyle (Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer).  As the luxurious yacht makes its way down the majestic river Nile, the couple suspects that someone, particularly Simon’s recent ex-fiancée, Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), is determined to cause harm or even murder towards them.  They ask for the sleuth’s services in uncovering who is scheming against them.  Poirot is on vacation, however, and tells them his services cannot be made available as no crime has been committed.  Yet, he accepts their invitation to board the boat and attempt to relax and recline. 

Naturally, a murder will eventually occur.

Hercule Poirot was not even a character in Agatha Christie’s original novel.  Yet, Branagh seamlessly weaves the detective into an elegant page turner on screen, with a script from Michael Green.  Branagh is a skillful actor/director. 

As this is a murder mystery, there are a wealth of characters with possible motives and red herrings to keep the journey down the Nile tense and engaging.  There’s the doctor (Russell Brand), an aunt (Annette Benning), a nephew (Tom Bateman, returning from Orient Express), Lynette’s housemaid (Jennifer Saunders), a speakeasy blues singer and her niece (Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright), as well as Lynette, Simon and Jacqueline, and on and on.  Branagh wisely moves his camera repeatedly at times across the boat panning over the faces of the cast, as if to the remind the viewer of who are the suspects.  There’s a wealth of information to take in, but this is not going to feel like you are cramming for a final exam the next morning. 

Because everyone could have a motive and/or a background with the murder victim, each actor within the colorful cast has various moments to shine.  There are some great acting scenes going on here that the players share with Branagh, and they don’t come off with similar formulas from one moment to the next.  Each character actor is thankfully unique in both appearance and personality.  It’s not hard to keep up, and while I may have known the ending before seeing the film (having read the book and seen stage adaptations over the years), I don’t believe it’s easy to deduce and solve as a viewer.  Different characters and moments that never occurred in the source material turn up.  There might even be few unexpected deaths along the way.  Branagh also keeps the picture alive with outstanding blues numbers that begin in an underground speakeasy bar in Paris and then play over transitional moments throughout the film.  This picture has a great period soundtrack.

Beyond the well diversified mystery, Branagh treats the viewers to gorgeous scenery aboard the boat, but even beneath the surface of the river and within the pyramids and sphinxes of Egypt.  There are spectacular starry night skies and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets to take in with palm trees and wildlife in the desert frames.  Sure, I imagine most of it is CGI, but it’s well done and nothing looks artificial.  Costume work is also magnificent as they lend to the distinctiveness of the suspects.  Whether it is evening wear, or casual garb for post-World War I, each character looks so intriguingly lively and different.

Michael Green’s script even delves further into the Poirot character.  There’s a background to that infamous mustache and tiny goatee.  I recall how people responded to the outrageously grotesque facial hair that Branagh donned in his first film as Poirot.  I appreciated it, however.  His appearance was as unforgettable as the red and yellow “S” on Superman’s chest.  Yet, why go to such great lengths, even if this is the early 1900’s amid an exaggeratingly glamourous murder mystery, to grow a mustache like that? Thankfully, there’s reason given here that draws out a dimension to Hercule Poirot both within a ten-minute prologue, and then implied periodically during the course of the film and wrapping up in a bluesy epilogue before the credits roll.  All I’ll say is that absurd mustache delivers a humanity to the film’s protagonist.

Death On The Nile has already suffered from negative publicity involving controversy with some of its cast members.  Its release was also postponed a number of times due to the pandemic.  Finally, it has arrived in theatres and what a refreshing experience it is to see on a big screen.  It opened to a modest box office response in its first weekend, though it finished at number one.  Normally, I don’t care about rankings at the box office.  How much money a film makes does not lend to the merits or faults of a piece.  However, for this film, I think I do care a little.  I hope it becomes a profitable success only to allow more films of the mystery genre to appear on screen in the future.  I’d certainly welcome another gripping yarn from Agatha, out of service from Kenneth Branagh.  Could And Then There Were None… be next?  That’s the real mystery.

3 thoughts on “DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)”

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