Death on the Nile is a detective murder mystery story adapted from Agatha Christie’s classic novel. While the novel may be critically acclaimed, the film was far removed from this status of respect and praise.
While vacationing on the Nile, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) investigates the death of a young heiress, Linnette Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), and considers every passenger a potential suspect. The ensemble cast includes such names as Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Armie Hammer, and Russell Brand.
In terms of visuals, Death on the Nile is underwhelming and not aesthetically pleasing or beneficial to establishing the story’s tone. The color grading and cinematography were basic and displayed the story in such a bright way, which awkwardly contrasted with the deceit of a murder mystery. The editing and shot choices were straightforward and did little to add to the creative and well-constructed maze of mystery needed for successful ‘who done it’ films. The set design was also not entirely impressive and seemed lacking in any form of convincing elements of time periods or touches of personality and culture. The backdrop of Egypt was lazily filled in with basic CGI of foreign deserts and monuments. Set design details also surely could have placed subtle clues throughout the film to add to the mystery, but rather the sets remained rather lifeless and served no other purpose than to have the background of the Nile and an extravagant trip.
On top of the poor, uninspired visuals, the structure and writing of Death on the Nile are headache-inducing and quite boring. The actual plot of the story does not start until about thirty minutes to an hour in after unimportant exposition on Hercule Poirot’s war history. It drags on and makes it hard to orient the progression of the plot due to the inclusion of many unnecessary details such as this. While the structure may attempt to stay true to the novel’s structure, it was ineffective and took attention away from the main action and murder at hand. This problem was responsible for the occasional snore heard throughout the theater.
Character development was also heavily lacking. In a murder mystery, each character’s motivations and flaws should be clearly established. This was not the case in Death on the Nile. In fact, motivations were revealed accusingly by the detective in the third act of the film. It made for a mystery film that lacked a satisfying payoff from the lack of setup in character goals.
Additionally, Death on the Nile contains a few different comedic aspects, but unfortunately, these moments were overshadowed by the confusion of intention. At times, the moments of comedy were indistinguishable from the poorly executed writing and acting, which ended up being laughable.
When it comes to acting, this film left much to be desired from every one of the actors. All seemed very flat and gave forgettable performances that seemed unconvincing, especially in the heat of an open murder case. None of them showed a sense of urgency or fear, which is unnatural and made them all look suspect for all the wrong reasons of poor acting. However, two honorable mentions include Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and Emma Mackey as Jacqueline de Bellefort. Branagh managed to bring a lighthearted air to the film that was likable when he portrayed the proud yet emotionally traumatized detective with OCD. All the characters were quite unlikeable, but Branagh showed quirks and upheld a certain line delivery that was charming and amusing. Mackey was not particularly brilliant in this film; however, she delivered a vast array of emotions that any of the other characters did not display. After enduring the rest of the cast’s lack of energy, it was refreshing to watch. Two performances that suffered in this film were from Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle and Gal Gadot as Linnette Ridgway. Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot did not have very good on-screen chemistry and thus made for a very weak leading couple. Watching the two interact and flirt was uncomfortable, which was most likely not the intention behind the characters’ relationship.
Death on the Nile failed to make an emotional impact. The final suspect reveal did not feel earned and struggled to succeed in the catharsis of satisfying justice. This reflects the structural flaws that prevent the film from being a great success as the original novel.
Despite the film’s major flaws, the film explores valuable themes of love and money which are both very strong in driving a story. As the two most influential things in the world, it was intriguing to assess the impact of both on each and every one of the characters. While the film had potential, the execution was no where near hitting the mark in creating a masterful murder mystery.
The ideal audience for this film would potentially be Agatha Christie fans who are eager to see her work on the big screen after a long while. Though, if I may, I recommend you stick to the 1978 adaptation instead.