‘Death on the Nile’ Is An Entertaining Film, But A Publicity Nightmare – Review
[Please note there are mild spoilers below.]
In Kenneth Branagh’s second reimagining of one of Agatha Christie’s books on Hercule Poirot (Branagh), Death on the Nile brings “the world’s greatest detective” and a new cast within into sleuthing orbit. The ensemble cast is rounded out by Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Ali Fazal, Sophie Okonedo, Emma Mackey, Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Russell Brand, Rose Leslie, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Annette Bening. Many names stand out for a variety of reasons and while the film is a solid next step from its predecessor, it’s hard to separate the recent notoriety of the actor from the film.
Controversy aside, the film is an entertaining step within the franchise. Stylish filming and glamour subtly take the audience away to 1930s North Africa, while performances from standouts Mackey, Okonedo, and Bateman make you wonder when they’ll pop up next.
While on holiday in Egypt, Poirot joins his friend Bouc (Bateman) in attendance at the wedding of the heiress, Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot) and her new husband, Simon Doyle (Hammer). Their love seems magical, but its origin story is far from it. This leads the newlyweds to enlist Poirot’s services. One thing leads to another and the Belgian sleuth finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery on the Nile.
Like most “whodunit” films, Death on the Nile keeps you guessing as this film weaves together storylines rooted in love, money, and revenge. Although the different storylines act as a vehicle to prevent you from seeing who’s pulling the strings within this detective thriller, not every storyline feels fully finished or as needed to push the film along. But while the previous film had a darker tone to it, this one feels brighter and playful for a murder mystery. The lush locale and forward 30s fashion exacerbate the effect.
What is just as impactful is when the camera focuses on Salome Otterbourne (Okonedo) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Mackey). These two are electric within this film, but it’s a shame that Okonedo isn’t within it as much as Mackey. Still, in every scene she is in, you’re fully aware. Aside from these two actresses, Bateman and Branagh bring ample charm to the silver screen.
And though there are strong performances, the chemistry within the ensemble isn’t as cohesive overall. So, it leaves a few actors as standouts, while others aren’t memorable or as useful to the overall plot.
But what does support the plot is the theme of love. The film questions familial, romantic, and platonic love and makes it another character within the film. Additionally, for a film based in the 30s, it strives to bring itself into the present with depictions of interracial and queer love – two things that existed within the 30s, but definitely weren’t appearing on the silver screen at that time.
And while love is handled well, its depiction of race relations seems a bit of a stretch for its time. The dynamic and backstory between Linnet (Gadot) and Rosalie Otterbourne (Wright) act as a vehicle for this, but even when explained it seems more like a hopeful fantasy.
Now, back to the controversy. After several delays due to COVID-19, the film’s promotion picked up steam, but noticeably with a focus on the heiress portrayed by Gadot. An interesting tactic for a movie that focuses on the ensemble. It’s an especially interesting tactic when Gadot’s character is directly tied to Hammer’s, who was seemingly erased from promotion due to allegations of sexual abuse, cannibalistic fetishism, rape and non-consensual BDSM.
Unfortunately, these allegations make Hammer’s on-screen interactions with other cast members a cringe-inducing (and possibly triggering) distraction from the film’s plot. Paired with Gadot’s political stances, Wright’s perspective on vaccinations, and Brand going down an “alt-right” rabbit hole, the personal lives of the cast overshadow the publicity for the film.
Ultimately, Death on the Nile is an entertaining film but feels less like a blockbuster production you watch on opening night and more like a film you stream on a quiet evening at home. Not sure what the future holds for future Branagh installments, but one thing is for sure, fewer controversial cast members will be needed to keep this current story of Poirot afloat.