“What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it.”
I’ll give Kenneth Branagh’s newest Agatha Christie adaptation Death on the Nile this: it’s visually very appealing. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Artemis Fowl, Belfast) delivers without a doubt his most compelling work to date, infusing detective superstar Hercule Poirot’s newest mystery with a gorgeous color pallette of yellows, oranges, and browns that were simply delightful to experience in theaters. While the cinematography is of course dwarfed by 2021 films such as The Tragedy of Macbeth and Dune, Zambarloukos’ cinematography is easily the best of 2022 thus far. Death of the Nile is, visually, a great film. I wish the same could be said of its presence overall.
Death on the Nile starts out slow. Painfully slow. Branagh, who also plays the main character Hercule Poirot, seems to think a full hour is necessary to set up the narrative, creating a baffling mosaic. The opening 60 minutes consist of black-and-white flashbacks of Poirot in World War I, Jacqueline de Bellefort and Simon Doyle’s estrangement at the hands of Jackie’s wealthy friend Linnet, Poirot’s vacation to Egypt and meeting with his old friend Bouc, Bouc’s subsequent invitation to Poirot to come to Linnet and Simon’s wedding… I’ll spare you the agony. It is only after an excruciating amount of scenes explaining the interpersonal dynamics of Linnet, Simon, and Jackie – not to mention a painstaking backstory as to Poirot’s mustache – that they depart on the Nile and the movie finally begins.
Branagh’s adaptation of the Death on the Nile story, written by famous mystery writer Agatha Christie, has much to be desired. Not only are the film’s characters dull and unmemorable, but their motivations are unclear and at times nonsensical. While the film does produce its intended effect of “wow, I wonder which of them murdered her,” it’s only because each character is so vaguely sinister that they are a murder suspect to the point of caricature. The actors don’t do much to remedy this glaring flaw in the screenplay – some such as the problematically cast Armie Hammer manage to spectacularly bungle every line thrown at them, though some have a few good moments, including Branagh himself.
After sailing along the Nile river of mediocrity for a couple hours, Death on the Nile takes it upon itself to end the mystery with a great bang. Hercule Poirot determines the killer, and Branagh’s screenplay gives himself a long monologue to explain this determination. Branagh’s aforementioned moment of acceptable acting occurs here, delivering his lines with more gusto than he does otherwise, and hitting his emotional cues in rather compelling fashion. But the story the lines convey is bewildering, to say the least. The murderers themselves are thoroughly unsurprising, making for a very disappointing attempt at a “twist.” But the way in which every event took place is so hilariously convoluted that any credibility the movie already had was utterly lost.
I’ll give Death on the Nile a 3 on the Rea-ting scale: a convoluted, terribly paced film with only a few redeeming qualities.
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