Death on the Nile — A murder most leisure
Don't forget to pack your mustache oil.
With a glass of champagne, a fine suit, and a meticulously groomed 'stache, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) takes his detective skills to the Middle East to enjoy some rays and solve a high-class murder. Death on the Nile, taken from the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, is a vanilla mystery served with rainbow sprinkles, using eye-catching color and misdirection to mask something bland beneath. The traditional mystery touches of intrigue and conspiracy are all here, along with loads of luxurious flair, yet it doesn't stray far from genre expectations. It offers some fun surprises, and a few suspenseful twists, but it's ultimately just another frivolous whodunit you'll watch once and likely forget about.
While technically a sequel to Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Death on the Nile feels very much like a standalone film. It introduces Gal Gadot as the wealthy Linnet Ridgeway, whose taste of grandeur is without bounds, Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle, the tall, dark, and handsome lover, Letitia Wright as Rosalie Otterbourne, and many others. The star-studded cast does well maneuvering a fairly convoluted script of he said/she said dialogue, and Branagh, although not as charismatic as in Murder on the Orient Express, gives a great performance as the lead detective. It's Branagh who keeps the thrills coming, often driving the film's tone as he flips between being a hard-boiled sleuth to a relaxed and somewhat timid civilian.
Speaking of timid, there's an overall feeling of leisure to Death on the Nile that works in terms of setting up the supposed tranquillity of a river cruise through Ancient Egypt — and unquestionably enhances the aesthetic of bright colors and sparkling luxury — but the slow and uninspired clue gathering really does a number to the pacing. Things take way too long to get going. With a runtime of more than two hours, it's a shame that the most exciting portion is the third act. All that comes before it plays out as fluff, only serving as extended backgrounds to characters that ultimately don't matter as much as the film thinks they do. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's boring, but it certainly likes to drag its feet.
With that in mind, however, Death on the Nile is still a ton of fun to watch. It's theatric and goofy, never taking itself too seriously, and when the tension heats up it doesn't pull any punches. Given that this takes place in 1937 and follows a group of incredibly well-off individuals, there's a touch of self-awareness here. While just about everyone else at the time suffers financially, these prim and proper folk are basking in the sun and partying, only to then see how dirty money can truly be. Not that I would call Death on the Nile a poetic film (because it's far from it), but the ironic commentary on wealth vs. happiness is very amusing.
- Final Thoughts -
Death on the Nile provides a boatload of flashy frills and surprising twists, but a slow start and inconsistent pacing make the whole experience a bit fatiguing. There's a lot to love, from the beautiful Egyptian setting to the characters and casting, and for fans of low stakes mysteries and high levels of intrigue, this Agatha Christie adaptation is surely for you. But if you're someone who likes their detective flicks to be a tad more contemplative, maybe skip this river cruise.
(Death on the Nile image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)