Death on the Nile Review


Thomas Farrell, Contributor

Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie mystery Murder on the Orient Express was quite the surprise. The high production values shone through with both the star-studded cast and the quality cinematography. While perhaps predictable or derivative when compared to prior adaptations, it was a well made and very enjoyable mystery that updated a classic while retaining what made it work. Unfortunately, the 2022 follow-up, Death on the Nile, completely misses the mark.

Super-detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is enjoying a nice set of perfectly symmetrical deserts in a London club when he sees Jackie de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and her fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) dancing. Soon after, he witnesses Jackie introduce Simon to her old friend, the very wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Cut to six weeks later and Poirot is vacationing in Egypt when he comes across his good friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), and his mother (Annette Bening). Poirot quickly gets drafted by the newly wed Linnet and Simon, who are afraid that Jackie will show up and do something to disrupt the marriage. Hoping to avoid Jackie altogether, they board a cruise ship down traveling down the Nile with a host of other guests including a jazz singer (Sophie Okonedo), a former fiancé of Linnet (Russel Brand), and several others. Before long, Linnet ends up dead and everyone on the ship is a potential suspect.

While the rough structure of the plot is the same as the book, characters, plot points, and events are shuffled or completely changed. Very rarely does this work in the movie’s favor, as the mystery feels overstuffed and poorly paced. For a movie that’s only two hours, it takes almost half that time to actually get to the titular “death on the Nile.” The exposition and drama before then are hardly original and are frequently lazy. Upon arrival to an Egyptian hotel, Bouc spends a minute describing every character, their profession, and what disagreements they have with Linnet. This kind of exposition dump shows the filmmakers have little appreciation for their own audience. Additionally, the characters don’t get much more complex than when they’re first introduced, and you occasionally forget some of them are even involved in the plot.

While every good mystery has red herrings and superfluous elements designed to confound the audience, Death on the Nile has core story elements that get brought up only once or twice but have great impact on the proceedings. An expensive, closely coveted necklace is a major factor, but barely gets any screen time. It just feels like the script constantly chooses to focus on the wrong and least interesting thing it can. Of course, the subpar writing certainly does not help things either. While the way the characters talk feels accurate to how they might have in the time period, most of them do not talk as real people would. Everyone is an over-the-top character ready with a witty remark or monologue. Regrettably the most realistic feeling character, the wealthy doctor and former fiancé of Linnet, Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), lacks significant screen time.

2017’s Murder on the Orient Express largely succeeded when it came to the visuals and cinematography. A cool, muted color palette, lavish train set, and appropriate costumes all contributed to a fantastic sense of atmosphere that gave the film its own style. While the CGI was occasionally a bit too noticeable, it was more than competent for a film of its scale. Death on the Nile does not carry this tradition forward. The visual effects are almost universally abysmal, and the cinematography fails to excite. There is very little exceptional or original on display. While the sets are nice, they are all a bit to clean and a bit too polished to feel like real places. The visuals do not immerse you, but constantly make you aware that you’re just watching a film.

Overall, Death on the Nile is an immense disappointment. There’s no subtlety, nothing clever, and certainly nothing original. While Murder on the Orient Express also lacked originality, it was well-executed and enjoyable. Death on the Nile simply bores you until you leave the theater and immediately forget nearly everything you saw over the last two hours.