The world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has returned to crack another deadly case, this time on the waters of the Nile river in Egypt. While joining a newlywed couple on their wedding celebrations, things take a turn for Poirot’s relaxing cruise vacation when he’s forced to solve the murder of one of the attendees.
Following Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh returns to direct and star, ensuring that this film feels tonally and thematically like a continuation of Hercule Poirot’s detective investigations. If you enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express, chance are you’d get a good kick out of this one too, however if you had certain gripes with that first film, you’ll most likely have them here too. Structurally, the films are a lot more similar than not. The pacing and progression of the narrative occurs in very similar fashion, with the actual content of the story, the location and the characters that differentiate the two. I particularly like the approach, it feels very old school in its execution and doesn’t conform to the most fast-paced adventure people have come to want from some murder mysteries. I initially wasn’t entirely on board of this pacing in the first film, but over a couple of rewatches I actually appreciated it more.
Death on the Nile moves at a slow pace, especially through the first half of the film where almost the entire time is spent setting up each and every character, ensuring you understand the necessary details of their background and their relationships with those on the ship. A number of people will wish for these early moments to move quicker, I personally admire the attention to detail it places into setting up this array of unique characters. It’s what makes the latter half of the film, where all of the mystery takes place, so much more engaging. Being invested in the characters and understanding who they are enhances the overall tension and allows audiences to make accurate guesses as to who the murderer is. It’s a very back-heavy structure in terms of the amount of dramatic events that go down in the latter half, but the building pace in the meantime makes you feel like you’re right in this investigation alongside Hercule Poirot. It’s very well directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has seemingly executed his vision exactly as intended.
The major element that makes these Agatha Christie adaptations stand out is the all-star cast, so it’s great when each one of them delivers a performance that keeps audiences locked in. Headlined by Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer, the two of them are memorable in their respective scenes. Especially Gal Gadot, who is by far the most commanding presence whenever she’s on screen, with a number of key scenes that up the emotion factor of the film. Otherwise, performances from Tom Bateman (Bouc), Russell Brand (Windlesham), Sophie Okonedo (Salome) and Letitia Wright (Rosalie) are all entertaining in their own ways. They each deliver top performances and transform effortlessly into their respective characters, making them the more intriguing characters of the bunch.
I must once again highlight Kenneth Branagh, as not only is his vision for the film fully fleshed out, but his performance as the world’s greatest detective is like no other. As far as famed detectives go, his version of Hercule Poirot may be my favourite, even above any Sherlock Holmes actor we’ve had. As ridiculous as the character is sometimes, Kenneth brings this touching emotion and realism to the character that makes him feel like a real person. He’s a great vessel to guide the audience through the mystery as his quirks are what make him so engaging.
If I had one very minor gripe for the film, it would be the visuals… or at least some of them. Anything set on the boat I thought was great, with some stunning cinematography and camera work at play. Even a couple of moments off the boat looked really nice, but there were some shots felt a bit off – particularly those made to look like the cast were shooting in Egypt when they weren’t. I mean, it definitely wasn’t horrible, but a few notable scenes early on were a little too obviously some form of visual effects.
In the end, Death on the Nile is something that sticks to the formula of the franchise and produces something very similar in terms of pace and structure. Much of the first half is focused entirely on character development, while the core of the story doesn’t fully kick in until the latter half gets underway. It’s a structure that will work for some more than others, but it’s necessary for the narrative being told. The performances are great, the tension in the latter half is tight and Kenneth Branagh continues to display his talents as a director (if the Oscar-nominated Belfast (2021) wasn’t indication enough).