DEATH ON THE NILE is directed by Kenneth Branagh. The film stars Branagh, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright. The film is a sequel to the Branagh's 2017 film MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS; both films are adaptations of the Agatha Christie stories of the same name.
Following his previous case, Hercule Poirot finds himself in Egypt, reuniting with an old friend and joining him on some fellow friends' honeymoon cruise. But what follows is another murder mystery for the expert sleuth, with the mysterious death of the newlywed bride during a cruise on the Nile River. Will Poirot be able to put his skills to the test and uncover the identity of the guilty party?
Back in 2017, when the MoviePass card was still a thing, I was seeing movies left and right, including ones I probably wouldn't normally go to. One of the movies I took a chance on back then was Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. While I did find the film to have some pacing and directorial issues (Branagh seemed to want to show off his version of Poirot more than the other supporting characters), I was won over by its old-fashioned storytelling and beautiful cinematography. DEATH ON THE NILE is the sequel to that film, and while it does tend to suffer from some pacing issues particularly in its first half, Branagh ultimately directs and stars in a superior sequel that certainly impressed this moviegoer. Fans of old-fashioned stories, tales of detectives, exotic locales, and everything in between should like what they find here.
Much like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS before it, Branagh's portrayal of Hercule Poirot still stands as the strongest point of the film. Here, we get a look into Poirot's past as a solder fighting in the First World War in a stark black-and-white prologue sequence which feels like it could've been borrowed from Joel Coen's THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH if not for the World War I-era technology and outfits, showing Poirot's investigative skills from a young age and hinting at the detective he'd become. Hell, we even get to learn why he decided to grow that ridiculous mustache and what his inspiration for its style was! Even though it's ultimately just a prologue, this was my favorite sequence of the film. I'd personally love to see an interquel film done in this style, depicting Poirot's post-World War I life up to the case he explored in the first film. Come on, 20th Century Studios and Mr. Branagh. Make it happen!
Luckily, the body of the film that follows isn't disappointing. The biggest mistake Branagh made in directing MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS was that he seemed intent on making himself the star, relegating the ensemble cast to the background and not doing much with them. He's certainly still the star here, but in DEATH ON THE NILE he seems to have learned his lesson, giving more emphasis to the secondary players, including Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer as lovers being stalked by a jealous woman on their Egyptian honeymoon, and fellow supporting stars that include the likes of Letitia Wright and Annette Bening. There's a lot of diversity and representation in the cast, and everyone seems perfectly picked for their roles. While I wouldn't say every single person here quite gets the development and individuality I'd like to see in a film such as this, it's far more of a success in this regard than the previous movie was.
DEATH ON THE NILE is spectacular to look at, with fantastic cinematography and beautiful worldly sights, from the streets and nightclubs of 1930s London to Egypt's pyramids and Sphinx, to a luxury liner traveling down the Nile River past massive mountain-hewn statues of the Pharaohs of old. I love movies that explore exotic locales and take us back in time, and DEATH ON THE NILE is a master class in these goings-on on the big screen. A solid cast and fantastic starring performance from Branagh (who also directs) stand as the icing of the cake.
If there's one issue to be had in the movie it's that the first half, following the World War I flashback and prior to the titular death, tends to drag. When a movie's called DEATH ON THE NILE, you know what's inevitably coming and may be checking your watch. (Hint: The movie wasn't called A PEACEFUL CRUISE ON THE NILE.) But the death itself that puts Poirot back into full-on detective mode doesn't occur until nearly halfway through the film. I appreciate time being spent for character development and that the movie takes the time to flesh out its cast and everyone's respective stories, but the first act aside from its opening prologue does get to be a bit of a slog at times. Still, this is a small price to pay to finally see this much-delayed film finally hit the big screen, and for the end result to be mostly devoid of disappointment.
After countless delays, DEATH ON THE NILE hits the big screen, and Kenneth Branagh's second Christie adaptation proves to be even better than the first! You'll love it for its star, its ensemble cast, gorgeous cinematography, vintage setting, and worldly locales. It's old-fashioned storytelling at its very best, and moviegoers shouldn't be disappointed in the final results.