By Ben Konuch
“When you have money, no one is ever really your friend.”
I’ve grown up on mysteries. For as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved the thrill of trying to piece together the clues of a good whodunnit, even as far back as the “A to Z Mystery” books I used to read as a kid. The ones that always stood out to me the most, though, were the works of Agatha Christie, who is considered the greatest crime author of all time.
Christie’s works about the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot have been especially successful, with his stories adapted to film many times before, perhaps most notably in the ITV television series “Poirot” (1989 to 2013). This adaptation of Poirot’s cases and his character was beloved by critics and Christie fans alike, so to say any new versions of these stories would have a difficult job standing out would be an understatement.
That was exactly what director/actor Kenneth Branagh sought to do in 2017 when he directed the readaption of “Murder on the Orient Express” and also starred as Poirot in the film. While the remake received mixed reviews, I always thought that Branagh had an interesting take on Poirot, even if that vision was never truly realized. Thankfully, with Branagh’s new sequel, “Death on the Nile,” it finally has been.
“Death on the Nile” is once again directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot and notably co-starring Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, Armie Hammer and Emma Mackey. An intricate tale of love, greed, lust and murder, the story follows newlyweds Simon and Linette Doyle as they travel across Egypt on their opulent honeymoon, accompanied by family and friends. This marriage isn’t as sweet as it seems, however, as a spurned ex follows them at every turn. When they meet Hercule Porot, they invite him to come with them on a river cruise down the Nile where they hope to be safe from danger …
While this film made changes to the book’s details, they were all in service of adapting the spirit of the novel while keeping it fresh, and I believe Branagh nailed that balance perfectly. “Death on the Nile” is an exciting, tragic and wonderfully elusive mystery that kept me guessing, a mystery where no one is ever safe and anyone could be the killer. Branagh especially shines through as Poirot here, showing a version of the beloved Belgian detective that’s a little more vain and a little more sarcastic than his ITV counterpart, but also far more genuine and far more human. Poirot here is a genius, of that there is no doubt, but he’s also an emotional and sometimes surprisingly vulnerable person. Branagh brings a layer of depth to Poirot that we haven’t seen before, and his captivating performance is the anchor of this exceptional film.
The co-stars of the film all pulled off great performances, which makes it surprising that Gal Gadot as Linette was the weakest out of all the acting in my opinion. While certainly far from a bad performance, Gadot has proven herself with strong characters such as Wonder Woman, but perhaps because of this distinction, it seems a bit difficult for her to sell the opulence and fragility of Linette’s character. I can’t help but wonder what another actress might have brought to the table instead.
In contrast, Emma Mackey as Jacqueline absolutely shines in her Hollywood debut, captivating the spotlight in every scene she’s in. She portrays the joyous enthusiasm of love in early scenes, and then manages to convey the haunted abandonment of what happens when that love fails. Armie Hammer plays off of her and Gadot well as Simon, although it is unfortunate to see him in this film after the concerning allegations about his life have come to light.
“Death on the Nile” doesn’t just rely on its acting to tell its story, though. Branagh is wonderful behind the camera, utilizing wide sweeping shots and dynamic camera movements to create a wonderful sense of grandness. Unusual techniques are used for visual storytelling as well, such as one specific interrogation scene when the camera keeps spinning around the three characters in what feels like an uninterrupted cut as the tension builds and builds and never stops moving until the scene’s climax. All this keeps “Death on the Nile” from being static or bland to look at, and avoids some of the previous film’s mistakes.
The only possible negative thing I could find with the film is that it takes almost halfway through its runtime for the inciting murder to occur, and while some may be bored with this pacing, I found it refreshing. For whodunnit mysteries like this, it’s unusual to actually have the characters fleshed out more in the beginning, as usually the murders tend to happen at the start of a film and most of our information about our suspects is discovered in context of the investigation. To be introduced to them ahead of time not only gives us more context for their motivations and mindsets, but also helps the film feel slightly more realistic. It makes these characters seem like real people with real lives, instead of just handy plot devices.
In conclusion, for any fan of the classic whodunnit murder, “Death on the Nile” is a must watch. Even if you think you’ve figured all or part of it out, “Death on the Nile” won’t stop pulling its punches – and its twists – until the credits start rolling.
I give “Death on the Nile” a 9.5/10
“Death on the Nile” is now available on DVD, digital and Hulu.
Ben Konuch is a sophomore strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.