The arrival of 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express may have felt like a bit of a fluke to outsiders who watched Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie movie rack up a surprise box office victory. A classic tale that had already seen itself adapted several times over, Branagh’s modern incarnation of Hercule Poirot wowed audiences enough to prompt the relatively quick development of a sequel that would become Death on the Nile. It’s enough to make some wonder if the director is pushing his luck, even after making a name for himself through many a Shakespeare adaptation – but the results on display prove that Branagh hasn’t merely stumbled on a fluke, but rather another literary legacy in cinema that allows him to show off his charms, both in front of and behind the camera.
As teased in the end of his previous adaptation, Death on the Nile sees Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot taking a trip to solve a murder on the Nile river. Unintentionally roped into a love triangle that involves a couple of newlyweds (Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer) and the woman that would seemingly challenge their happiness (Emma Mackey), the Belgian detective is presented with another murder to solve.
Showcasing yet another all star cast of colorful suspects, this new mystery is a comfortable return to those who have loved Hercule’s methodology in classic and modern contexts. Most beautifully, Death on the Nile gives viewers even more of a window into the enigmatic detective’s personal life, while exploring this new case in equally effective form.
Returning to the world of Hercule Poirot, this new mystery allows us to get up close and personal with the sleuth himself.
Though Agatha Christie wrote several iconic detective characters throughout her impressive career, the real highlights have been the stories told through the usage of characters like Poirot. Death on the Nile, much like many of Christie mysteries, has always been appreciated for the mystery itself, rather than a character building tale that develops its protagonist as a full-fledged character. Kenneth Branagh, along with writer Michael Green, build out Poirot’s personal backstory in such a way in the film adaptation that it allows us to get up close and personal with the sleuth while also watching him solve yet another cinematic mystery.
With the usage of a World War I flashback to young Poirot’s military service, the sequel gives the audience more pieces to the mystery behind the mystery solver. It’s especially pertinent to Death on the Nile’s story, as the personal depths of our detective’s love life fuel his efforts to untangle a love triangle that’s proven deadly. For Branagh and Green’s Hercule Poirot, being a mythical mind of mystery isn’t enough, as we see him wrestle with solving more than just a simple whodunnit.
The intimate narrative pairs well with the story of Emma Mackey’s Jacqueline de Bellefort, as her obsessive nature gives Poirot a brilliant foil to explore his tragic past. At the same time, Mackey separates herself from an impressive cast of all stars that includes Russell Brand, comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, and Annette Benning, as her Jacqueline brilliantly rides the line between lethal romantic and a cunning potential suspect.
Navigating through a maze of motives and suspects confined to the corridors and staterooms of a boat sailing down Egypt’s most famous river, the movie adding the detective’s very personal subplot helps make Death on the Nile more than just another procedural. Watching our hero grapple with his feelings while working out the scenario makes for a more approachable angle when it comes to the well-known literary gumshoe, and allows Kenneth Branagh to infuse his character with oodles of charm and stubbornness. It’s the very vital pulse to a story that’s almost a century old, and it couldn’t be in better hands this time around.
Kenneth Branagh truly excels at making the mystery the star of the show.
No matter if your murder mystery is a whole cloth creation, or a well-tailored re-skin of a tale like Death on the Nile, showing the process of deducing and solving such a case can be tough. It’s a cerebral process, and without the right lens, the movie that results can be dry and full of static close ups of its central detective pulling a series of “thinking” faces. Much as he did with Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh excels at making the murder plot at the heart of this new installment the star of the show.
Of course, it helps that a good portion of the earlier acts of the film showcase stunning settings like Egyptian ruins and the nightclub scene of London. Audiences get quite an eyeful of those places as the building blocks to the case ahead are laid out in beautiful detail. But by time the body count starts to pile up and the sleuthing intensifies in this time tested tale, the epic scale of earlier scenes gives way to the more enclosed portion of the ride.
Done incorrectly, Death on the Nile could be stuffy, but by bombarding the viewer with lush scenery and some choice set pieces ratcheting tension throughout the earlier scenes of the film, Kenneth Branagh sets the story up so well that the confinement works beautifully in the favor of the movie. Well-versed Poirot fanatics and newcomers will once again be glued to the man’s process and how it plays out on the screen thanks to the visual language of mystery solving remaining a strong and intriguing exercise this time out.
After many Shakespeare adaptations, Kenneth Branagh has found another literary muse.
Much as he’s done in the past with Shakespeare adaptations like his iconic Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh has written a love letter to another literary muse of which he can’t get enough. Death on the Nile proves that the actor/director’s talents are just as sharp as ever, with a deadly tale of obsession giving him a conduit to indulge in his personal tastes. Thankfully, Branagh’s love doesn’t lead to a murder; rather, it gives the world another fresh take on classic source material.
Once again shooting on 65mm film, Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos invoke an old Hollywood style with a very modern storyline, and it’s as much of a meal as the beloved Murder on the Orient Express. The results prove the previous movie’s success wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
Like any good storyteller, Kenneth Branagh revitalizes the classics in Death on the Nile. There are enough changes to keep people guessing, with enough clever reinvention brought to the basic pillars of the story to nail home the important components. What results is a thrill ride that might even surprise Agatha Christie devotees.
Whether you’re well-versed in this ship bound saga, or are a relatively new fan ready to follow Hercule Poirot anywhere after his previous caper, this journey is a delicious ride that’s as sexy as it is deadly. While a traditional mystery by formula, Kenneth Branagh’s retelling experiments with modern twists and flare that make it compelling viewing, and a can’t miss cinematic experience.