“Death on the Nile“ isn’t exactly dead on arrival, but it feels as though something may be lacking in the film’s story. The movie is Kenneth Branagh’s second project depicting Agatha Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot.
It’s important to note the positive aspects of the film. Branagh does a very good job of having his director of photography use the camera to provide the geography of the Karnak, the steamer ship on which most of the story takes place. The Nile itself is treated as both an environment as well as a character as deadly as anyone or anything aboard the ship.
The actor-director also seems more comfortable playing Poirot. Just as before, he surrounds himself with a litany of talented actors and actresses to round out the ensemble cast of characters. Gal Gadot plays heiress Linette Ridgeway and Armie Hammer plays her husband, Simon Doyle.
The plot of the story and the murder central to the conflict are relatively unchanged from the novel from which the movie was adapted. Some details are tweaked but they are minor and don’t affect any real change to the story. However that’s not to say that there aren’t major deviations from the original source material.
Many supporting characters are adjusted either to create more relational proximity to the victim, or to align with Hollywood’s obsession for pushing “the message.” While authenticrepresentation is important in film and literature, it’s equally as important to adhere to authorial intent and avoid sacrificing good characterization on the alter of progressive politics.
That said, probably one of the biggest drawbacks of the film is that it was trying to play with the exact same formula as Branagh’s previous Poirot film, “Murder on the Orient Express“ (2017) where the murder victim and all the suspects were deliberately interconnected by the author.
“Death on the Nile“ does exactly that despite the source material presenting the suspects as random strangers on board the Karnak. In the film adaptation, Mr. and Mrs. Doyle rent out the ship as part of their honeymoon celebrations with all their guests. It doesn’t feel forced, but the filmmakers don’t seem trust audiences to be comfortable with a cast of “strangers.”
The film also feels predictable. Even casual audiences unfamiliar with the book might easily pick up on who the true culprit is despite all the twists, turns, and red herrings incorporated into the plot.
Gadot’s performance as Linntte Ridgeway suffers from unclear motivations. There’s something very bipolar about the characterization; she wants to celebrate one moment, and then the next she’s confessing to feeling paranoid around all of her guests… while the character is a socialite, she wasn’t required to invite any of them on the river cruise.
Ridgeway even invites the famed detective because she feels unsafe, when in the book she and her husband follow Poirot onto the steamer trying to get away from a stalker. The alteration works but the story would feel stronger sticking with Christie’s original.
One standout performance is that of Russel Brand as Doctor Linus Windlesham. Brand is better known for playing zany, nonchalant characters with more of a rock star persona… so basically himself. In this, he plays Ridgeway’s scorned ex-fiancée and his performance is both subtle but filled with deep-set conflicting emotions. Comedians often make the best dramatic actors.
While not as strong as its cinematic predecessor, the movie is a fun detective story that audiences will enjoy.