It’s taken a long time, but now Kenneth Branagh’s second Agatha Christie adaptation after “Murder on the Orient Express” is coming to theaters. If DEATH ON THE NILE We reveal in our review that it can keep up with its predecessor, which received a mixed reception.
OT: Death on the Nile (USA/UK 2022)
Millionaire heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) offends her only friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey): she quickly falls in love with Jacqueline’s fiancé, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). Soon afterwards, Linnet and Simon invite everyone to a decadent honeymoon on the Nile, even though the bride feels extremely uncomfortable in the presence of her acquaintances, relatives and business partners. So she asks master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) to look after her. Despite Poirot’s efforts, a murder occurs on the SS Karnak, which is cruising through Egypt – and the entire wedding party is suspected…
With a budget of $55 million, Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel “Murder on the Orient Express” grossed over $350 million at the box office. A second film about top detective Hercule Poirot was already hinted at in the beautifully designed crime film from 2017 – and in view of this box office performance, it was soon a done deal: With “Death on the Nile” the main actor, producer and director Kenneth Branagh took on the role (“Artemis Fowl”) and screenwriter Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049”) probably the second most famous case with the mustachioed Belgian, for which a well-known ensemble once again gathered. Then the corona pandemic intervened, which made the theatrical release planned for autumn 2020 unattractive. The novel adaptation was initially postponed until 2021, but then allegations were made against cast member Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name”) loudly: He feared his affairs with psychological terror and fantasies of cannibalism and carried out sexual violence on them. In March 2021, police investigations began against Hammer into an allegation of rape. Although Hammer’s lawyers denied all allegations, it was still a PR nightmare for those responsible for “Death on the Nile.” Reshoots, such as those undertaken by producer Ridley Scott in his directorial work “All the Money in the World” to swap Kevin Spacey for Christopher Plummer, were nevertheless not considered: Spacey was cast in Scott’s thriller drama as a reclusive misanthrope who only… shares few scenes with other characters. Reshoots were therefore strenuous, but comparatively easy to do.
Director Kenneth Branagh can be seen again in the leading role of private detective Hercule Poirot.
Hammer, on the other hand, appears in many scenes in “Death on the Nile” in which he is in the middle of a large star ensemble – reshoots would have been logistically complicated and immensely expensive. So the film remained untouched and the theatrical release was postponed until spring 2022 – probably with the unspoken hope that the audience would no longer remember the reports and/or the trade press would look for a different narrative. And yet it is easy to zero in on this history. In contrast to Branagh’s well-rounded, impressive “Murder on the Orient Express” adaptation, “Death on the Nile” is just about solid, which is why the more exciting hooks can be drawn from topics outside the film. Above all, visually, “Death on the Nile” is a step down despite its $90 million budget. This is partly due to the production design: the SS Karnak is not such a characterful, detailed setting, but rather bare, so that the various interrogation conversations between Poirot and the suspects are monotonous to watch. Branagh and cameraman Haris Zambarloukos try (“Cinderella”), spice up the dialogue passages by occasionally filming the characters through windows, which leads to reflections, refractions and similar effects. Nevertheless, Branagh’s first Christie adaptation lacks the visual charm, especially since the director relies on overexposure beyond the prologue and epilogue, which is reminiscent of TV crime dramas. In combination with half-baked digital tricks that complement the real filming locations anything but seamlessly, this Poirot mission ultimately becomes an aesthetic disappointment – the pretty costumes don’t help much.
“In contrast to Branagh’s well-rounded, impressive ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ adaptation, ‘Death on the Nile’ is just about solid, which is why the more exciting hooks can be drawn from topics outside the film. “Death on the Nile” is a step down, especially visually, despite its $90 million budget.”
To make matters worse, “Death on the Nile” is much more dependent on an impressive look than “Murder on the Orient Express.” Because in Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile” a lot of narrative time passes before the obligatory murder even occurs. The waiting time for the moment that begins the investigation longed for by the audience in keeping with the genre (and cleverly written by Christie) is atmospheric, exciting and entertaining in the book. Christie enchants with descriptions of Egypt that awaken the desire to travel, entertains with dialogues and characterizations that she wrote with a sharp pen, and she knows how to exploit the expectations of her readership by repeatedly describing suspicious behavior long before the murder. It’s difficult to repeat this balancing act in the film’s compressed running time. The 1978 film “Death on the Nile” manages to be fun right up to the inevitable murder and, thanks to the enchanting shots of original locations, also atmospheric and full of travel fever. Only the stoking of suspicions is a bit bumpy in the 140-minute-long film – Poirot, implausibly, often sits or stands within earshot at the exact moment when a few characters are talking about dubious things.
Egypt makes for an impressive setting.
Not only do Branagh and Green try to accomplish the same thing in a shorter running time, so the characterization of most of the suspects is even thinner. You largely lose the holiday feeling during the first half of the film. But what correct What’s a shame: Green and Branagh prove that they have an original idea of how to stand out from the famous first screen adaptation of the material and avoid the challenges of condensing the novel into a cinematic format. However, they do not remain true to their idea, but only resort to it sporadically in a stop-and-go process: at times they shift the narrative focus from the wedding party and the investigation to Poirot’s personality. They portray the detective as a dogged person who feels the need to combine clues and thereby help his fellow human beings must. When an accident happens near him, he inevitably blames himself. Branagh’s superbly played Poirot is on the verge of losing his stoic, professional facade in the second half of the film. Unfortunately, Green and Branagh struggle with putting all their effort into this narrative idea – neither do they consistently put Poirot in the foreground, nor do they strive to maintain a constant balance between Poirot and the investigation. Instead, the more intimate approach repeatedly disappears as the interrogations dutifully unfold with the broadly sketched suspects.
“Green and Branagh demonstrate that they have an original idea for how to differentiate themselves from the famous first screen adaptation of the material and circumvent the challenges of condensing the novel into a cinematic format. However, they do not remain true to their idea and only resort to it sporadically in a stop-and-go process.”
This is by no means a disaster: the case is a classic for a reason, even if it’s apart from Emma Mackey (“Eiffel in Love”) as the equally angry and troubled ex and Sophie Okonedo (“After Earth”) As a cheeky diva, no one in the supporting cast puts a positive, memorable stamp on their role, so the ensemble performs almost consistently solidly. Gal Gadot alone (“Wonder Woman 1984”) crashes ungallantly through some tongue-in-cheek dialogue passages. So there is entertainment to be had through “Death on the Nile” – it’s just frustrating to see the dangling threads that could have made this crime thriller seamlessly connected to “Murder on the Orient Express” in terms of quality if those responsible had been a bit more consistent.
Conclusion: Kenneth Branagh deepens his interpretation of the legendary Hercule Poirot – while also slogging through a less inspired adaptation of Agatha Christie’s holiday-themed murder mystery Death on the Nile. Due to a look that lacks charm and a cast of supporting actors that leaves little impression, this case falls short of Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” despite some strong ideas. Genre fans still go to the cinema.
“Death on the Nile” can be seen in USA cinemas from February 10, 2022.