A visually arresting film and clever whodunit which is beset but somewhat bland performances.
Plot: Famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Brannagh) investigates the murder of a wealthy heiress (Gal Gadot) aboard a luxury boat on the Nile.
Review: Having never read the story nor (at that time) watched the star-studded 1978 version. I can’t say that I am familiar with either the plot or what to expect from this movie. That being said, we know that Agatha Christie’s particular brand of storytelling usually involves a twist. Therefore as soon as the first murder was committed, I immediately began suspecting everyone and anyone. When you’re watching a Ms. Christie story, you got to doubt the entire cast, as you can’t just rely on the old standby, the butler did it.
What this movie did right, in spades, was the film’s visual component. Egypt has always been to me, a place of wonder, a desert country that has untold fortunes and secrets buried in its sand. Kenneth Brannagh does a superb job of bringing this land of mystery to life with fantastic cinematography that portrays the wonders of Egypt to the hilt. You see the Sphynx, the pyramids and yes, the Nile in all their glory. I have no idea if this movie was shot on location or not (I suspect not), but you couldn’t tell – this film is just gorgeous and best of all, very little of it is shot at night.
I’m sure the story itself will keep more than a few people guessing. I won’t spoil it here, but I did call who the guilty parties of the “death(s) on the Nile” were. Having watched and read more than my share of Agatha Christie’s stories, like I said, I’ve learned to expect anyone is guilty of heinous crime in her narratives. That being said, I must admit that I had no idea how many people would end up dead, and at least one of the casualties was quite shocking. I also found the whole set up around the main murder sort of impressive, and although I kind of caught a clue, it’s well hidden.
What was lacking in the movie was a bit of pacing and performance. On the pacing side, the film takes a while to get going. There is a LOT of set up and some points are emphasized repeatedly, which I found unnecessary. In the beginning, some scenes just ran too long (and one was a dead giveaway to who the culprits probably would end up being) and could have been trimmed. The movie is 127 minutes, so it wasn’t a catastrophic bore, but you probably could have trimmed a good fifteen minutes, here and there.
I also found the characters a little bland and flat. Brannagh is terrific as Poirot and gives his usual inspired turn as the detective musing about the little grey cells, but I found most of the cast just there. There are some notable performers in the cast, including Armie Hammer, Russell Brand, Gal Gadot, Rose Leslie, Annette Bening, Dawn French, Sophie Okonedo, and Letitia Wright, but most of their direction seemed to be, “Look concerned, look confused, look annoyed,” as there was very little character to be found with most of the cast. Only Bening and Okenedo seemed to have any grasp on their parts, and they both had fun with the material, but the rest looked overwrought as if they were studying for an important test that they couldn’t possibly pass.
Overall, though, Death on the Nile is a decent time-waster that is stunning to look at. Pity that the cast couldn’t match up to the visuals, but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s work or you like murder mysteries with twists, you’ll probably find enough reason to give this one a look.