Death on the Nile – movie review

Elegant production design, a big name cast and twists aplenty characterise Death on the Nile, a new take on the Agatha Christie classic. After five killings, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) solves the crimes, but not before all stand accused.

We’re introduced to Poirot’s extraordinary mind through his remarkable instincts on the battlefield during World War I. Next, the action moves to London in 1937. By then the man who set out to be a farmer has become the world’s best detective, afforded a hero’s welcome. He is a keen observer of life and watches intently as a talented blues’ singer generates plenty of heat on the dance floor. Specifically, his gaze is turned to Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) getting hot and heavy with her newly minted fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). She’s very much in love.

Then attention turns to an affluent friend of de Bellefort’s, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), who makes a movie star entrance to the club. De Bellefort relays her good news to Ridgeway and prevails upon her to offer Doyle a job, which she does. Then Doyle and Ridgeway take to the dancefloor. Six weeks later, de Bellefort has been dispensed with. Doyle and Ridgeway are an inseparable couple celebrating their marriage with friends and relatives in Egypt. But a dark shadow hangs over them in the form of de Bellefort, who appears to be stalking them. She turns up unannounced wherever the couple venture.  She’s heartbroken and believes Doyle still loves her. Among their company is Hercule Poirot.

In an attempt to get away from de Bellefort, Doyle books a paddle steamer cruise on the Nile for his new wife and guests. For her part, Ridgeway trusts none of them. And she has every right not to, for, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice of men often go awry. Soon the vessel becomes a murder scene. One slaying leads to another and another … and so on. Poirot is the master interrogator, who recognises all present have motives, with money being the root of all evil.

I enjoyed the buildup and the hunt for the perpetrator. The back story is compelling … and there is quite a long introduction before the film gets to the boat, during which it tends to drift to melodrama. Death on the Nile circa 2022 is a lavish production, with much meritorious work on the design. It looks splendid. Michael Green has written a strong screenplay, which Branagh directs, although I would have liked to know more about each of the suspects’ backgrounds. Incidentally, Green and Branagh also collaborated on Murder on the Orient Express in 2017.

Branagh is ideally suited as  the lead in this film, commanding attention. I appreciated the love triangle and the interplay between the two women dueling for Doyle’s heart. Not all the characterisations are as strong and at one point crocodile tears are shed. Still, trying to pick the guilty party or parties remains elusive, just as it should.

Also featuring Annette Bening, Russell Brand and Dawn French, Death on the Nile is, for the most part, slick and reasonably satisfying.

Alex First

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