Monday, 4 April 2022

Film Review: Death on the Nile

Kenneth Branagh's detective with a tasteful tash returns for another nefarious mystery in Death on the Nile.
Branagh's second Agatha Christie adaptation, Death on the Nile sees the Irish actor/director once again sporting the outlandish moustache of Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot for a murder mystery set in 1930s Egypt.

When newlyweds Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), a wealthy heiress, and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) embark on an extravagant honeymoon along the river Nile with a collection of their nearest and dearest in tow, everything about the idyllic journey seems picture-perfect. But some members of the party harbour grudges against the bridge and groom – and when someone on the lavish steamer Karnak winds up murdered, there's no shortage of suspects for Poirot to spool through. 

Much like Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express from a few years back, there's a lot to like about Death on the Nile. It's glossy and glamorous, with a gorgeous cast of recognisable faces (Letitia Wright, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Rose Leslie, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Sophie Okonedo).

Branagh's lavish approach eschews classic period piece stuffiness, with insanely high production value and vast vistas of Egyptian pyramids, bazaars and ancient ruins – even if the VFX are less than stellar. There's an unreal sheen and glossiness coating everything, indicative of the airless soundstage this was shot on, rather than on location in Egypt. 

The mystery itself is propulsive and pulpy, and the satisfaction in seeing the jigsaw pieces come together is always fun. Much like Murder on the Orient Express, I didn't know the story beforehand, so there's always a fun to had in trying to second-guess and outwit the red herrings, the reversals and the reveals. 

The acting is a little hit and miss, with so many great actors lumbered with questionable accents. Scottish actress Rose Leslie is playing a French maid; Jennifer Saunders plays an American socialite; Branagh's thick Belgian brogue is nigh impenetrable at times. 

Gadot struggles in one of the lead roles; she's never been the strongest actor, but her screen presence, charm, physicality and action chops usually compensate for that (see also: Fast Five, Wonder Woman). Emma Mackey (who I hear is great in Netflix series Sex Education) is probably the standout performance as scorned lover Jackie de Bellefort. At the end of the day, the hammy acting kind of adds to the overall charm and old-fashioned nature of the film and the genre. It doesn't distract from the overall polish and intrigue. 

The Verdict: 6.5/10

On the whole, I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday evening. It's a shame that opulent period pieces nowadays are reduced to being shot on stilted soundstages and blue screens, but the final film still has a lot to like. 

Death on the Nile is streaming on Disney+ now.

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