“Death on the Nile” (2022) Review
Written by Victor DeBonis
Directed by (and starring Kenneth Branagh in the main role as legendary detective Hercule Poirot), the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” is a decent mystery that has a good amount to admire about it from start to finish. It is by no means a fantastic whodunnit caper along the likes of “Knives Out” but the amount of talent that is on display, combined with the entertaining passion that is placed throughout this narrative, created an amusing watch, regardless of some of the hiccups that come from specific areas.
I never read the book of the same author, Agatha Christie, that this movie is based on, so you might want to seek information elsewhere as to whether it succeeds as an adaptation or not. The previous cinematic entry in this recent Hercule Poirot series, 2017’s version of “Murder on the Orient Express” (also based on one of Christie’s novels) was a movie that I thought was just okay and not much else beyond that.
As one would come to expect from Branagh (who also directed that entry), it was well-shot, and it was surrounded by terrific acting talent to add to what should’ve been an engaging murder mystery. The trouble was that half of the characters felt thin and unengaging, and the conclusion left me more than a little underwhelmed. “The Nile” is definitely more of a step in the right direction that mostly left me intrigued to see where the narrative was going and even what most of these characters were experiencing amidst each other on this boat.
Branagh is once again amusing and fascinating as Poirot. He has a finicky sense about how he wants certain items, such as food, presented, but he also possesses a razor-sharp wit and eye for when something doesn’t add up or someone acts suspicious. When his investigations happen, he carries this harsh, calculating gaze that is practically staring into someone’s soul and eventually ends up piercing through even the toughest of potential suspects. The mystery scenes work largely because Poirot is great in peeking into details or observations that bring out the deepest secrets and worries of these passengers, and they’re fun to view, partly due to Branagh’s performance. I also appreciate how the audience gets a slight glimpse into his past this time around, and we get a hint of a possible reason concerning why, duties aside, he has a hard time trusting people in general.
Other actors also bring much to their roles, whether it’s Emma Mackey who has this electric intensity and passion that boils from her mere presence in a room or Russell Brand who changes lanes from his comedic work and convincingly portrays a soft-spoken doctor who has clearly seen plenty of death in his line of work and carries his own secret desires. One of the most entertaining performers is easily Annette Bening as an overly protective mother and artist. She scowls at practically everyone that crosses her path and openly voices her thoughts and distrust with undeniable gusto. As over-the-top as she is, it is unquestionably fun to watch.
Other actors, for that matter, have their own moments in which they’re acting in a way that is more melodramatic than something that would usually be suitable for the big screen. Yet, similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s version of “Dracula” (a film that I reviewed not too long ago), it makes a little more sense for this type of performance to occur with this set-up and atmosphere. Some actors do stick out more than what they were intending with their delivery, but they are thoroughly entertaining with how well they step into their roles.
Of course, the other actress to recognize here is Gal Gadot. I’ve loved her ever since she amazed audiences as Wonder Woman, and I’m always happy to see her in any type of movie, regardless of how it turns out. She also steps into a role that is against type from her valiant demeanor as the aforementioned superheroine and instead plays someone who comes across as much less honest to the average eye. Beneath her presence that is filled with wealth and on-the-surface joy is someone who is actually quite insecure and whose actions don’t make it hard to see why others might not approve of her. Gadot brings equal amounts of charisma and uncertainty to a character that requires both, and she reminds me once more why she is a true star that movies are fortunate to have.
All of these characters have credible chemistry with each other, and, while a few of them are forgettable, there is a thick amount of heat and passion (both through romance and hatred) that is felt throughout this expedition, and it makes the mystery to come even more investing and amusing to view. The screenplay initially stumbles, early on, when a surprising amount of exposition is given to try to give the audience a sense of how every character is. Yet, once the boat ride begins and we find out more about why these characters react to each other as they do, it makes for an entertaining ride.
This is a definite step up from the previous cinematic Poirot entry in the sense that I would sometimes forget how the characters on that train felt about each other or who they were because there weren’t as many interesting interactions between them as might have been anticipated. Here, there are scenes with more memorable interactions, including characters giving little insights to their past or what they presently struggle with. When death occurs in this movie, I legitimately feel a bit stunned because I’m fairly fascinated with most of these characters.
In terms of directing duties, Branagh still excels in many ways. Some of the more interesting filmmakers are the ones who love to find whatever opportunity they can to move their camera, and Branagh certainly represents that in spades. From the steady sweep along a dance floor to the motion of following two angry people through this elegant ship as they debate about something, the movie speeds forward at a steady pace and thrives from how much Branagh loves to yank his audience into this fantastic-looking era and world. Shots of the pyramids and the waters are stunning and colorful, and these scenes, coupled with the wonderful production design, convey the vibe of the types of movies that would play in the 40’s and 50’s, and I have a definite appreciation for that.
Sometimes, the direction and writing doesn’t always hit its mark. There is a rather frequent mentioning of the word, “love” throughout this movie, and, while it is usually done to voice how deceiving and even hurtful relationships can sometimes be, I reached a point in which I was growing weary of the characters discussing this theme altogether. The scenario of this mystery works way better when people are showing their mistrust in their connection to one another rather than simply saying how love hurts. Another example is that some of the effects are awkward, such as specific CG animals and green screen effects that weren’t that convincing. And, while I had a blast listening to many of the delightfully melodramatic lines and remarks, the ending was definitely an improvement over that of the 2017 film but, without spoiling anything, didn’t leave me as surprised as the filmmakers were probably hoping for.
All in all, though, this version of “Death on the Nile” is an entertaining whodunnit. The screenplay has its hiccups, and the over-the-top aura can miss in certain parts. Yet, the actors are all good in their given roles, especially Gadot, Bening, and Branagh. As a director, Branagh creates a visually great mystery that reminded me of the types that were made in the Old Hollywood days. The investigation for who is responsible is intriguing for the most part. And, I was fascinated with how much I was entertained by seeing this group of people with different talents and perspectives stuck on a boat trip together and witnessing how far wealth and a lack of faithful behavior could drive them to either be suspicious or downright distrust the other in their relationship. This boat ride experiences some shaky waters, yet it is still an overall satisfactory trip that I was happy to have taken.