Reel Reviews | Death on the Nile

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

Kenneth Branagh returns as super-sleuth Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie classic tale of murder on a boat instead of a train in Death on the Nile.

While vacationing in Egypt and looking at pyramids, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) runs into his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman).  Bouc, who was hanging with the “in” crowd on the Orient Express invites Poirot to see the new crowd he is a part of with his mother.  He meets the lovely heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) who has married Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) away from her best friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey).  Jacqueline does not seem to be taking the marriage well and is stalking the couple.  When Linnet attempts to hire Poirot to protect her, he refuses but decides to tag along.  He attempts to dissuade Jacqueline from her behavior to no avail as she turns up on the Karnak, a boat Linnet and Simon have rented for the wedding party to cruise the Nile and to get away from Jacqueline.  When Linnet turns up dead, Poirot realizes he has been dragged into a deadly situation where no one can be trusted and that even he may not survive.

Death on the Nile is written by Michael Green based upon the Agatha Christie book of the same name and is also a remake of the film with the same name from 1978 that starred Peter Ustinov as Poirot.  Like Murder on the Orient Express, it hails an all-star cast featuring Branagh, Bateman, Gadot, Hammer, and Mackey along with Annette Bening, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Russell Brand.  The movie is also directed by Branagh who returns to the series after directing the Orient Express. 

Branagh, who has been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for his work on his intensely personal work Belfast, returns to the black and white style he used in Belfast for a prologue in this film.  Branagh’s cinematic style is very similar to his work in the Oscar-nominated film.  As he transitions to color from the prologue, he continues to capture detail and color extremely well both in the clothes and in the actors in the film.  His direction is gorgeous.

The prologue and the subsequent epilogue are completely original creations for the film that strays from the source material.  Although some of the material is hinted at in the series of books by Christie, none of it is completely canon.  The purpose of the material gives the audience an insight into the character of Poirot.  There are a few other liberties that Green and Branagh take upon the original masterwork of Dame Agatha.  While none of the changes particularly take away anything important to the story, they don’t really add anything either. 

The whole movie actually has the same feeling.  While there is nothing wrong with the movie, there is nothing groundbreaking in the presentation of the material either.   It is cool to make some of the characters black or gay or whatever but the mystery stays the same.  Unlike in the Orient Express and in the movie’s predecessor from the seventies, this movie does not develop as suspenseful an atmosphere as there should be.  Not enough suspicion is created around other members of the wedding party to have a motivation for killing Linnet in order to make the investigation of the other murders seem important.

While it is understandable that the Agatha Christie novels are a rich source of material that could lead to the creation of a Hercule Poirot “universe” of movies, it is important for Green and Branagh to realize that her novels are more about solving mysteries, not the characters who do the solving.  Branagh plays a great Hercule, probably even better than Ustinov did, but the movie isn’t just about him.  If the writers had spent as much time in character development across the cast, there would be plenty more tension for viewers to enjoy. 

Rated PG for sex and nudity, violence, and smoking, Death on the Nile is a lackluster but beautiful-looking attempt at re-creating a literary classic.  The actors do well despite being handcuffed to a middling script. Perhaps Branagh should have devoted time to the script like he did with Belfast.

Grade:  C