MOVIE REVIEW – Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot in his own film, as he investigates a murder on the Nile. In a departure from Agatha Christie’s originally more amusing character, Branagh’s Poirot is extremely serious and often sombre, with a tragic backstory involving the growth of his moustache.
This is a big week for Kenneth Branagh. On Tuesday, he received three Oscar nominations: best director, best original screenplay and best picture, all three for Belfast (which I’ll see tomorrow), the director’s autobiographical drama. And now in cinemas, Death on the Nile is Branagh’s second adaptation of Agatha Christie, which he directs and stars as the Belgian detective.
Before the review, it’s worth noting that Death on the Nile was initially scheduled for release in late 2020. But then the pandemic hit, so the release was delayed. What also put the film somewhat under the radar was that several allegations have been made against Armie Hammer, including rape. He has since been pulled or withdrawn from several film projects and a play. Will this be his last role?
The previous Christie adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express, was released in 2017, and although it was a critical flop, it grossed $352 million of its $55 million budget, almost doubling the investment. It’s no wonder then that 20th Century Fox has once again invited the director-actor to take on another Christie classic, once again star-studded. Branagh takes his work, the story and the characters he plays so seriously that somehow the sarcastic humour and charm that made me love the original Christie story so much as a teenager that I read most of the author’s books to rags has disappeared.
If you’ve ever wondered why Poirot wears that funny moustache, now you’ll find out…
The film begins with an origin story – you’d think Poirot was a Marvel character – explaining how he grew his moustache. Obviously, this has nothing to do with Agatha Christie’s original hero; it’s a joint idea between Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green, who also adapted Orient Express.
Apart from the fact that I find it unfortunate when such a classic character is given some kind of tragic backstory that is ahead of the original, the heavy opening events linked to the First World War do an introductory work that is supposed to be of high quality but intended to be entertaining even more unnecessarily gloomy.
But the departure from the original character is not only evident in the origin story of the moustache. Poirot has a tragic love in his past and a platonic (?) love in his presence. This alone shows that Branagh was uncomfortable with the original material and felt he had to rewrite it, lengthen it, rather than give us the original story in a credible staging.
However, the film’s story is still somewhat barebone. After the tragic Nile cruise takes its first victim, the film focuses solely on the investigation and the interrogation of witnesses. There are more unexpected murders, and it is a little implausible that they can be carried out so easily on a ship with one of the world’s most famous master detectives on board.
Somewhat inconsistent with the period (1937) is the way Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) seduces her girlfriend’s recently acquired, supposedly body-hugging boyfriend on the dance floor by almost sinking into Simon Doyle’s (Armie Hammer) mouth with one of her dance moves. Apparently, that’s how they danced in ’37, of course…
Is it worth buying tickets for this cruise?
Kenneth Branagh’s new Poirot film is long and drawn out at first, but later on, the events pick up after the murder, becoming more exciting and twisty. The director/lead actor has really put his heart and soul into character development. Still, I think this war ‘crippled’, tragic, gloomy Poirot is too different from the original, just as the film’s tone does not reflect Agatha Christie’s original style. However, for crime fans, Death on the Nile still may be recommended.