There is a feel of the “Golden Age of Hollywood” about Death on the Nile. The cast and talent used to present the story is impressive, while the scenery and cinematography of the film give it a “classic” feel. The film gives the impression of a big budget, on-location shoot with a high-profile cast, but never feels like its over-reaching or alienating.
This is because Kenneth Branagh does a great job of balancing the amazing cast with a solid mystery. The story is the focal point but the cast play their parts perfectly and as he did with Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh has brought together a powerhouse collective who play their parts well. As with all good murder mysteries, there is a motive for everyone, from a jilted lover, a jealous ex-fiancé, the bitter godmother set to inherit a fortune or even the seemingly disconnected blues performer who shares a racist incident with the victim. As you’d expect from an Agatha Christie mystery, it is all well-laid out and perfectly constructed so that Hercule Poirot has some work to do to solve it.
As with the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is the star of the movie. He is pompous, arrogant, awkward at times but knowingly brilliant. You are on his side, despite his lack of social graces at times or the way his OCD means he makes some questionable decisions at other points. Branagh’s role as director means he slowly builds the movie to the inevitable murder and then frames the interrogation scenes well and Poirot gets his moment with each of the individual stars, making for highly watchable and engaging scenes as you try to decipher the mystery for yourself.
Of course, it helps Branagh that the stars he is working with are such impressive talents. Gal Gadot is gracious as the rich newly-wed bride and Armie Hammer as her new husband, its great to see French and Saunders back together as a double act and they bring both light relief and an unexpected plot twist while this is probably as straight as you’ll see Russell Brand play anything in his short movie career. This is without mentioning the talents of Letita Wright, Ali Fazal or even Annette Bening. The cast is good but nobody overshadows the film or the mystery itself.
The mystery is a compelling one. Similar to Orient Express in that it is a captive suspect list, lots of motive and seemingly no way anyone on the boat could have actually murdered the victim. This story leaves less for the audience to work with though and rather than feel active in the investigation, as you would with the best crime stories, you feel more like an audience member watching a mystery be solved, that you could never have worked out for yourself. Unfortunately, when the mystery is resolved and the murderer revealed, it does feel a little “left-field” and out of no-where and you wonder how Poirot came to the conclusion at all, even when he has explained his reasons.
This doesn’t make it any less watchable though and if nothing else, this is a film that shines much more light on Poirot himself rather than just being a straight murder mystery. Branagh’s version has a past which haunts him here and we get a much more vulnerable side to the detective that makes the movie even more compelling. It also means that another mystery with this version of Christie’s most famous detective would be a welcome one.
Overall, Death on the Nile is a very well-made murder mystery. It has a great setting, a great cast and very good, compelling mystery at its core. The audience get their chance to try to solve it but the outcome does feel a little contrived once all is revealed. There is more about Branagh’s Poirot here though, which is a welcome character development and one which could easily be explored further.
Rating – 4
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