Death on the Nile Review: A Joyless, Mundane Cruise Party
The real murdered victim in Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile seems to be the soul of the movie itself. The movie promises grand extravagance (a cruise with shining wooden decks, pretty people in glamorous dresses, parties, and “enough champagne to fill the Nile”) and of course, a tantalising murder mystery.
But, midway through the movie, you will feel a burdensome detachment. It’s because Death on the Nile is devoid of any fun quotient and genuine emotional appeal. It lacks the very things that worked to make its predecessor, Murder On The Orient Express (2017), a successful film.
You can still go for this if the coronavirus pandemic wiped out all your travel plans. Because hey, if nothing else, at least you get to visit a CGI-generated Egypt from the comfort of your chair.
Death on the Nile opens with an incredibly beautiful flashback sequence of a de-aged Branagh as a young Poirot, fighting in the trenches during World War I. The dark and gritty sequence establishes the a heart-warming origin story of the man behind the cold and calculating persona of the super detective as well as his flamboyant moustache.
Right after this, we are swept off to a crowded bar in London, where two love birds, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Jacqueline (Emma Mackey), are performing a highly erotic and acrobatic dance together. The flamboyant and wealthy heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), makes her head-turning entrance here. Jacqueline, Linnet’s childhood friend, introduces her to her fiancé Simon. Simon and Linnet dance together and 6 months later, we see Simon is happily married to Linnet. He broke off his engagement with Jacqueline and now, with Linnet, is going on a cruise trip on the Nile for his honeymoon.
Joining them, on this trip, are a host of interesting characters: the Communist godmother of Linnet (Jennifer Saunders) and her maid (Dawn French), Linnet’s ex-fiancé, the doctor (Russel Brand), Linnet’s cousin and lawyer (Ali Faizal), Linnet’s lady maid (Rosie Leslie), a jazz singer (Sophie Okonedo) and her feisty niece (Letitia Wright), Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his painter mother (Anette Benning). And of course, there is the betrayed and revenge-seeking lover (Emma Mackey), quietly stalking the couple.
It is interesting that with this huge ensemble cast, most of them are severely under-utilized. Russel Brand, Ali Faizal, and Rosie Leslie barely get any screen time to make a remarkable presence. Sophie Okonedo brings a charming grace to her character as a jazz singer and Letitia Wright delights as the former’s business savvy manager. However, beyond these simple traits, there is not much to these characters.
Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot barely feel memorable themselves as the couple around whom the story revolves. The two try hard to project themselves as a madly-in-love duo but their chemistry comes across as so unbelievably hollow that you wonder how these two even ended up together. (And of course, there’s the matter of allegations against Armie Hammer. When he is engaged in all those madly erotic moments with his partner, be it Linnet or Jacqueline, one can’t avoid thinking about it)
Kenneth Branagh brings the delightful charm from the previous film, but then he feels limited as well, like the rest of the cast.
Emma Mackey excels at being Jacqueline. The Sex Education star, with her large brown eyes, manages to convey the complex emotional struggles going on inside her character. You can feel her simmering jealousy, bubbling rage, and the earth-shattering pain of being betrayed, all at the same time. She truly steals the show.
Emma Mackey as Jacqueline in Death on the Nile. (Credits: 20th Century Fox)
However, most (definitely not Hammer and Gadot) of these performances seem to be casualties of a tiresome plot. Michael Green’s screenplay seems to labour for too long with no intention of having fun. The first half of the movie solely concentrates on fleeting character moments, and the actual murder takes place at the 127-minute mark. Following that, it’s the usual barrage of accusations and expositional dialogues. However, Green does manage to present refreshing twists on the original Agatha Christie story by including discussions on race and wealth inequality.
Haris Zambarloukos’s sweeping camera work seems to luxuriate in the grand extravagance of the Doyle’s and their cruise honeymoon. But the CGI rendered Egypt ensures a hollow, artificial appeal, and rejects any possibility of evoking a genuine heartfelt emotional response.
My recommendation: Maybe wait for Knives Out 2.
Death on the Nile is now playing in theatres.
Author’s Biographical Note: Ritwik Jay completed his Bachelor’s in Physics, had a change of heart, and then decided to complete a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Ambedkar University, Delhi. Currently, he is working as an editor at Explore Screen.
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