The world of famed fictional detective Hercule Poirot returns to theaters this month. Following 2017's Murder on the Orient Express and its impressive box office return, Death on the Nile brings the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh back to both the director's chair and leading role. The famed director continues an impressive run of filmmaking after outings like Belfast and Disney+'s Artemis Fowl.
While Death on the Nile retains its predecessor's leading star, the ensemble is made up of a completely new squad. Similar to Orient Express, the sequel's squad of stars brings comparable A-List power.
As Hollywood continues to stabilize in the pandemic era, films shot to completion before COVID-19 hit the United States are still rolling out. Death on the Nile is no exception, as it wrapped shooting in December 2019. It suffered numerous release date delays due to the pandemic and controversy surrounding star Armie Hammer.
Nearly three years after it began production, Death on the Nile has finally arrived.
Does Death on the Nile Meet Murder Mystery Standards?
While it is far from a perfect movie, Death on the Nile is a genuinely gripping experience at the cinema. The film takes a little time to get moving, but once the exposition is in the rear view mirror, it puts its foot on the gas and does not look back.
Different from traditional motion pictures, murder mysteries have extra criteria that viewers expect them to meet. This ultimately boils down to two things: Did the twist come as a surprise? And if so, was it a swerve for the sake of a swerve, or did it actually make sense?
Fortunately, Death on the Nile checks both of those boxes. Unlike its predecessor which relied on late flashbacks to meet its resolution, Death on the Nile litters the Egyptian cruise with clues for the full 127 minutes. Beyond that, Death on the Nile is significantly easier to follow than Murder on the Orient Express.
Without getting into specifics, Nile's plot still juggles many ulterior motives, but it whittles down the variables tenfold. Murder mysteries need to ride the fine line between holding their audiences' intrigue while simultaneously not being too convoluted to lose their attention. While Orient Express teetered, Death on the Nile acrobatically balanced for its entire runtime.
Death on the Nile is far from a slow burn, but it does require audiences to be patient through its leisurely first act.
Once the actual death on the Nile River occurs, the film experiences a snowball of momentum that takes it right to its resolution. Pulse-pounding is a buzz word thrown around a lot of Hollywood blockbusters, but I could legitimately feel my heart rate increasing as the chips began to fall.
It's very difficult to evenly disperse screen time across a large ensemble, and Death on the Nile does struggle with that balance. For that reason, the higher-billed actors have the more intriguing characters, while the lesser-knowns fall to the wayside a bit. Regardless, the most intriguing characters and motives are enough to maintain a viewer's investment.
Kenneth Branagh and Company
As mentioned, murder mysteries are only as strong as their ensembles. Rian Johnson's Knives Out remains the modern gold standard, but Death on the Nile makes its case to join that class.
While Orient Express, Knives Out, and Death on the Nile all boast strong casts, Nile suffers the most from being top-heavy. Branagh delivers another impressive outing as Hercule Poirot, but his supporting players are a distant second.
That's not to say there aren't profound performances among the supporting stars. Gal Gadot maximizes every minute she's on screen, radiating that same subtle charisma she brings to all of her roles. Her throwback vibe as an actress especially shines in the 1930s setting.
Armie Hammer and Emma Mackey also come to play, flexing an apparent chemistry any time they share the screen. Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright also bring their own fun dynamic to the ensemble, as they noticeably gel well together.
From there, the ensemble thins out. The Death on the Nile cast feels more like a coach (Branagh's Poirot), a star quarterback (Gadot's Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle), and a collection of forgettable pieces. The strongest ensembles operate as a team, but Death on the Nile's is more of a group of individual players.
Death on the Nile successfully recreates that authentic 1930s vibe that Murder on the Orient Express did so well. Unlike its predecessor, Nile is not limited to a train, and takes full advantage of that.
Death on the Nile maximizes its surroundings by including noteworthy Egyptian iconography. There are a couple of scenes that suffer from spotty CGI, but it isn't prevalent enough to take a viewer out of the experience.
Orient Express played with a number of innovative camera shots, specifically through its reliance on the bird's eye overhead angle to emphasize the claustrophobic feel of the train car. Nile does not have many outwardly memorable shots, but it notably retains Branagh's unique style as a director.
With how dominant streaming is these days, the top question surrounding most theatrically-exclusive pictures these days revolves around the cinematic experience: "Do I need to see this in theaters?"
From that perspective, Death on the Nile is not a must-watch. Those who only venture to the theaters once or twice a year will not have this film on their radar. That said, for those who appreciate the cinematic experience and are actively looking for films to enjoy inside a local theater, Death on the Nile will not let you down.
Death on the Nile hits theaters this Friday, February 11.