“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.” – Agatha Christie
I think audiences can be smart when they want to be. If you present your film as a mystery, with clues laid along the way, many see it as a challenge to figure out the truth before the big reveal. Movies like this can be really tricky to pull off successfully. Knives Out is a great example of the murder mystery done to perfection. Not only is it clever it has a whip-smart sense of humor. The characters are eclectic and interesting and possess qualities that could make any one of them the culprit.
Murder on the Orient Express and now Death on the Nile are modern interpretations of Agatha Christie novels surrounding the character of her own creation, Hercule Poirot. Kenneth Branagh not only plays the character but directs both mysteries with flair and visual spectacle. Death on the Nile, like Express, places the World’s Greatest Detective on a collision course with murder and mayhem. What makes Poirot such a stellar detective is his inability to allow things to be out of order. His attention to detail is obsession bordering on mental disorder. However detrimental to his everyday life, his demand for balance allows him as a detective to be his absolute best. Often this makes for less than cordial interactions with those he questions and potentially accuses. This dynamic of accused and accuser with such an eccentric group of characters is where Death on the Nile really shines.
Poirot is set in his ways and those he questions are often the antithesis of his everyday preferences. These clashes often lead to exciting and dramatic confessions and sometimes even violent climaxes. Kenneth Branagh plays Hercule Poirot with such tenacity and humor that he somehow can be the biggest asshole in the room and still manages to be charming and even likable. His performance as the mustached gumshoe is the main attraction in my opinion but as with any character like this, he is only as strong as the actors he plays off of and the collection of actors on Poirot’s second cinematic adventure are obscure and hidden with truth and and for at least one of them, hidden with blood on their hands.
For Express Poirot was deep in winter’s freeze and the cold hearted around him ran rampant with him as their only real leash. On the Nile, heat and predators far more dangerous than them contain the evil to the decks of the S.S. Karnak. Unfortunately for the few genuinely innocent aboard this also means no escape from a potentially early grave. What Christie explores and Branagh emphasizes on screen is the notion that just because a character may not have pulled the proverbial trigger does not mean their innocence is absolute. There are degrees of guilt and in that regard there is little actual freedom from blame on this death cruise.
Death on the Nile is compelling if not a bit dragging in its first act. In these earlier scenes it’s important to remember that the moments not on the Nile are spent establishing character and their odd tendencies. It’s these moments that allow us to recall in later scenes that makes us question just how involved we think they might be. The fun of this particular mystery is the answers are often present from the beginning but drowned in distraction and deceit and left up to us, and Poirot of course, to separate truth from fiction and bring some semblance of justice to a tale replete with pain and cruelty.
The juxtaposition of something celebratory like a newly formed marriage with a terrible tragedy like murder is what drives the story on the Nile. The characters are judgmental and riddled with their own complex reasons for being potential murder suspects. One of my favorite aspects of Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot is that as he becomes more immersed and confounded by the mystery currently inhabiting his immediate attention he not only stays focused but becomes more dangerous as his intentions and focus narrow. As the crime ruminates and escalates his concerns for other people’s comfort and peace of mind are quickly replaced with anger and impatience and a demand for truth. His ferocity and focus hone and it’s in these moments that Poirot truly becomes his namesake, World’s Greatest Detective.
Death on the Nile is a slow burn in the start but eventually takes off and never lets up once it does. The cast is convincing and marvelous to watch as they attempt to dodge Poirot’s determined gaze. As fun as these characters are, and as driving as the mystery is, the strength of this story lies with the confidence and bravado of Kenneth Branagh as the emphatic Detective Hercule Poirot. The setting of Egypt, with the Pyramids as the background of this tale, from a visual standpoint make Nile much more interesting than its predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express.
Nile uses its setting to great lengths as it never fully allows its inhabitants to relax like they might in their own environments. In so many ways, from the heat and insect stricken river to the intense questioning of the famous detective, this story makes its characters sweat with vehemence. As a fan of the first, Death on the Nile is a welcome addition and hopefully not the final outing for one my favorite on screen sleuths since Benoit Blanc and his over-the-top impression of Foghorn Leghorn. Imagine a clash between Hercule Poirot and Blanc. That might require subtitles but I’m sure it would be a good bit of fun. Until that unlikely meet-up, Death on the Nile is a rousing, stylistic mystery all its own and worth the price of admission.
Rated PG-13 For: violence, some bloody images, and sexual material
Runtime: 127 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Russell Brand, Annette Bening
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 9/ Acting: 8.5/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 8.5
OVERALL: 8 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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