Gal Gadot has had a pretty impressive few years. She has managed to transcend being a not-Vin Diesel side character in the Fast & Furious franchise who was killed off pretty unceremoniously several movies ago, to being one of the tentpole characters of the Warner Bros DCEU project, partnering up with Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds for what Netflix swears is their biggest movie ever, to leading an enormous ensemble cast in the Agatha Christie mystery thriller Death on the Nile. The film just landed on HBO Max, and it is already one of their most streamed films. No surprise there, considering people still love Agatha Christie nearly fifty years after her death, and everyone in the world loves a good murder mystery. And if that death is on the Nile? The perfect formula.
But truth be told, although Gal Gadot is front and center on the poster as the fabulously wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle, she is not actually the protagonist of Death on the Nile. We’re going to get into some spoilers here, so SPOILERS: be warned.
Gal Gadot is not the main character of Death on the Nile. She is, in fact, the titular death. The protagonist of the film is one mustachioed detective named Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh (who also directed). As one of Agatha Christie’s most celebrated literary creations, Poirot is the centerpiece of any story that is in. Death on the Nile is the second of 20th Century Fox’s revival of the famed detective, after 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express. That movie ended up grossing approximately $350 million on a $50 million budget, so a sequel was assured. Fortunately, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels featuring the Belgian sleuth (as well as a few plays and dozens of short stories), so there is no shortage of material. And though Death on the Nile did not do as well commercially as its predecessor (what with the global Covid-19 panic and all), there is already a third movie in development.
And it is a good thing, too. While we will not get Gal Gadot back for another movie (being dead of murder, on the Nile), Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot is an absolute delight. Death on the Nile begins with something of an origin story for Poirot. In a gorgeously shot black and white sequence set in the trenches of World War I, we see a young, clean-shaven Poirot use his peerless brain to help his troop of Belgian soldiers advance, only for a booby trap to savagely scar his face. Actually, it is a bit more of an origin story for Poirot’s mustache, but it is much the same thing. But more seriously, it also introduces the detective’s fiance, in a brief scene that will do much to outline the character later.
It would be easy to characterize the structure of Death on the Nile as cliche, except that Agatha Christie actually invented it whole cloth, and others later made it cliche. First, there is some table-setting scenes of Poirot at a blues club where he sees Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) dancing provocatively with his fiance Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), then being introduced to Gal Gadot’s Linnet. Fast forward some weeks, Poirot is on an Egyptian vacation, and through some machinations, ends up on a cruise where Linnet and Simon are now married after a whirlwind romance and being passively stalked by Jackie. Cue a whole gaggle of intriguing suspicious characters, like Russell Brand’s uptight British doctor (formerly engaged to Linnet- motive!), Letitia Wright’s Rosalie Otterbourne (classmate of Linnet- motive?), and Ali Fazal as Linnet’s cousin and financial advisor (money- motive for sure). Murder happens, a roomful of people are eventually locked in together, and dramatic monologues happen.
Rest assured, Hercule Poirot mercilessly questions the suspects, says his own name a lot, and eventually solves the case. Branagh clearly relishes playing the character and directs with a surprisingly sensual hand. Death on the Nile is the director’s seventh movie working with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (including the recently Academy Award-winning Belfast), and it shows. The movie is absolutely breathtaking, highlighting exaggeratedly dramatic Egyptian monuments and the opulence of 1930s style. It certainly does so with its characters, emphasizing the star quality of Gal Gadot so well that you can see why she is the focus of every other character’s adoration of hatred. But you don’t need us to tell you: just get to HBO Max now.