Review by James Lindorf
The world’s two most powerful motivators, love, and money collide aboard the S. S. Karnak in Kenneth Branagh’s “Death on the Nile.” Of course, 20th Century Studious brought Branagh back as both director and Belgian detective Hercule Poirot after 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” made 350+ million at the box office. “Death on the Nile” sets sail on February 11th, just in time for a holiday driven by money and love.
I have to admit when I was taking my seat in the theater, I already had a potential headline for this review in mind. Something along the lines of “Branagh celebrates as Oscar buzz drowns out the sound of a sinking franchise.” The answer to how I moved from total apathy too, hey, that wasn’t half bad, is lowered expectations. Reflecting on the movie, there isn’t a lot worth praising, but that didn’t stop me from being entertained. “Death on the Nile” is probably the most extensive collection of names and talent in a movie since “Murder on the Orient Express.” This time Branagh brought Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, and more, including Tom Bateman, who returns as Bouc.
Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot) is one of the richest women in the world. Along with power and privilege, money can also bring loneliness. Linnet never knows if people are in her life for her or the money. After a decades-long friendship, one person Linnet does trust is Jacqueline De Bellefort (Emma Mackey). When Jacqueline calls on her friend to introduce her to her fiance Simon Doyle (Hammer), there is an instant connection. Six months later, we are introduced to the new Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, Simon and Linnet. The pair are on their honeymoon along with family and friends, including Bouc and his mother (Benning), Linnet’s godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), and her nurse Bowers (Dawn French). Linnet never goes anywhere without her trusted assistant Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), who organized the entertainment with Rosalie Otterbourne (Wright) and Salome Jacqueline (Sophie Okonedo). Also on the guest list are Linnet’s cousin and lawyer, Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), and family friend and former boyfriend Lord Windlesham (Brand).
With enough money to last several lifetimes, it is no surprise that everything is going swimmingly for the happy couple. Well, everything is perfect except for one little thing. Jacqueline has been showing up at every stop along the party route. Intimidating the couple and their guests with a fierce stare. It is annoying to Simon but terrifying Linnet, who has no idea what the broken-hearted woman plans for them. After a chance introduction by Bouc, Linnet invites Poirot to join them and protect them from Jacqueline no matter how harmless or dangerous her intentions may be. When one death after another plunges their private cruise on the Nile into chaos, only Poirot will be able to identify the killer.
In a whodunnit with dozens of possible combinations of victims and murderers, the most shocking thing is that comedian Russel Brand gives the least cartoonish performance in the entire film. Stealing from the George Lucas directing playbooks, Branagh must have been telling everyone that their performances could be bigger and more intense. The over-the-top characters make it harder to connect with because you are constantly being pulled out of the film to judge the silliness of the acting. There is no disputing the amount of talent on screen. There are moments where each actor breaks through and gives us something special before slipping back into the bad and cartoony.
The story of “Death on the Nile” is pretty basic. A bunch of people get on a boat, and someone dies. Poirot questions and accuses everyone, many of them dying shortly after that accusation, until the big reveal in the closing minutes. It includes big flourishes like a hypersexual dance scene, gunfights, and chases around the ship, but for the most part, it is lots of sitting and talking with pompous rich people. Most of the depth of character is provided by Bouc, the communist godmother, the maid, and the Otterbournes. Rosalie and Salome have complex positions on the ship as talented and motivated women of color. They know their worth, and some of the other passengers appreciate them as well. Still, they live in a time where virtually none of the rich white people surrounding them would give them the time of day if they weren’t performing a service.
The rumored budget of “Death on the Nile” was 90 million dollars, and I am struggling to think of a movie in that rage that had CGI as bad as this movie. It is clear as day that someone built the deck of a beautiful boat on a soundstage, and everything else was encased in green. There isn’t a single moment where anyone where you will believe they are on the ship on the Nile or anywhere else. Whether the CGI company needed more time or more money isn’t clear. Still, Branagh or someone at the studio should have known they shouldn’t release a product in this state that it needed to be trimmed or sent back for another pass to avoid ridicule.
So the acting is mostly silly, the CGI is awful, and the story is basic. There isn’t anything that stands out as worthy of applause but mediocrely made moves can still be entertaining. Entertainment value is the single most crucial element of any film. No matter how great the acting, powerful the message, or important the topic is, no one will appreciate it if the audience is bored. Thanks to this talented cast, there are just enough good moments to keep your interest. Mysteries also have a way of sucking people by offering to satisfy their desire to be right when they guessed the identity of the next victim or killer. “Death on the Nile” is an elite 3 out of 5 film. It is subpar in almost all technical components, except the costuming, which is fantastic, but by being entertaining, it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Drama, Crime
Original Language: English
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Release Date: February 11th, 2022
Runtime: 2h 7m
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
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