Death on the Nile: Mustaches and Murder (2022)
The novels of Agatha Christie have entertained the murder-mystery instincts in all of us for close to a hundred years. Her long-running character, Detective Hercule Poirot, has been portrayed in film and television by a variety of actors, with Kenneth Branagh as one of the most recent. Much like his last Poirot adaptation, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, Branagh directs, produces and stars as the obsessive investigator in another whodunit: ‘Death on the Nile’.
‘Death on the Nile’ opens with a young Poirot in World War I, fighting to stay alive and devising creative solutions to help his fellow soldiers. After a traumatizing accident on the battlefield, Poirot is left with a disfigured face, and decides to grow his now famous mustache to hide his scars. Some years pass, and we are now transported to a jazz club circa 1937, where Poirot encounters some interesting characters in Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), his fiancee Jackie de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), and Jackie’s childhood friend, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). He’s always watching from a far however, and doesn’t engage these new faces until six weeks later in Egypt where Poirot’s friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) introduces him to the newly married Simon and Linnet.
Already the audience is confused.
Within the span of 30 minutes, we have seen World War I battles, jumped forward in time to a jazz club, and then transported yet again to Egypt. Our characters have switched partners, introduced an ensemble case of new friends, as well as one enemy. There is so much exposition and character setup prior to the primary action and revealing events that the film seems to drag on for the first hour. That is until we are finally boarding the ship on the River Nile…and the action turns bloody.
There are so many characters introduced in the first 45 minutes of this film that are amalgams of the characters originally written in Christie’s novel. Much of this is attributed to Branagh’s choice of a diverse cast, which brings its own surprises and twists to a story that’s chock full of them. When the aforementioned death finally occurs, it seems to be a race against time for Poirot to solve the crime.
This version of ‘Death on the Nile’ is stylish and glitzy. The Egyptian scenes are remarkable in beauty and composition, superimposed on a landscape of deceit and treachery. Branagh does a fine job of creating space for the actors to shine in each of their characters, even when there are many of them aboard this wretched ship. But the movie has an inescapable problem in Armie Hammer, which unfortunately cannot be avoided. When news of the movie’s delay because of COVID turned into further delays due to Hammer’s real-life scandals, it was almost expected that his scenes would be reshot with another actor instead (much like Kevin Spacey’s turn in ‘All the Money in the World’). The movie was delayed almost three years, and Hammer’s role is far too important to have reshot all of his scenes.
While Hammer’s performance is adequate to serve the role he plays in this film, this may be a prime example of not being able to separate the performer from the performance. The problems in ‘Death on the Nile’ don’t just start with Hammer though, as the film drags on too long and there is too much setup prior to the murder that becomes distracting over time. However, Christie’s overall plot stays intact, the film is entertaining and the final reveal is satisfying to say the least. There’s still a lot to root for in Branagh’s version of Poirot’s character, and if there’s a chance he adapts Christie’s most famous novel of ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, maybe his next go-round might just be his best effort yet.
It would be a crime not to try.
Ticket rating: 🎟️ 🎟️ 1/2