Movies can be great or they can be terrible, but in my experience, most are just adequate. These adequate ones might not affect us as deeply as the great one, or grant as much material for jokes as the terrible ones, but sometimes they can be precisely what we need: an escapist, fun ride. Keeping that in mind, I can’t think of a more appropriate adjective for Death on the Nile than just perfectly adequate.
Death on the Nile is director Kenneth Branagh’s second adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel after 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express. Featuring Branagh as the famous detective Hercule Poirot alongside an ensemble cast including Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey and Ali Fazal, it follows the wealthy Ridgeway family during the Egyptian wedding of the young matriarch Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot) and the unemployed loser Simon Doyle (Hammer).
Their wedding takes place six weeks after Doyle’s then-fiancé, Jackie de Bellefort (Mackey), introduces the two to each other. Jackie shows up at their wedding as a phantom of Doyle’s past, claiming to be still madly in love with him, which forces them to eventually abandon their wedding plans and sail on the Nile with the family.
The rest of the drama unfolds on the river: There are deaths, mysteries, reveals, close shaves and twists that won’t keep you on the edge of your seat but will certainly go well with the popcorn. It’s fun to keep guessing the killer in the classic whodunit style, and chances are that you’ll figure it out by the end.
The screenplay is also adequate, although the second half was much better than the first, mostly because of the pacing of the film: The death doesn’t happen nor does the mystery begin until halfway through the movie. The film doesn’t have the dark, brooding tone of film noir to make this pacing work, so you just have to wait it out till the mystery gets going.
Once it does, we lead into routine interviews with suspects and evenly spaced reveals and eventually make our way to the conclusion with all suspects locked in a room as Poirot solves the case. There are some emotional bumps along the way, and I will admit that some characters and relationships did become somewhat dear to me. There were also some genuine scares that made me jump in terror, but they are generally harmless enough to just turn into laughter soon enough.
In terms of the production design, the lush Egyptian landscapes look good, but they carry a fake quality, although this has become a convention of the period-mystery genre and doesn’t necessarily take away from the film. One shot, though — when Jackie shows up at the wedding for the first time — was too off-putting. Nothing in that frame, even the ever-gorgeous Mackey, looked real.
However, overall, the cinematography does take you to the world we imagine Christie’s stories to unfold in, and although they might work for some audiences and not for others, the visuals are consistent in that sense. Branagh also seems to have handled the mise-en-scène well, with sets and costumes reflecting the opulence of the world the story is set in. From the nightclub in London to the Karnak boat on the Nile, this world has been built well and adds to the over-the-top and bright visuals of the film.
The most attractive part about the movie, however, is the cast. The performances are very good, and they uplift the movie to a serious plot that one is invested in. Branagh carries himself as Poirot with ease and has all the idiosyncrasies one might expect a character like Poirot to have, but he also gives us glimpses into his inner pain and story.
Hammer and Mackey were, at least for me, the highlights of the movie. Their initial dance scene was an absolute delight to watch, as the two handled each other with an unforgettable erotic charge, their faces red with passion. The dance goes on for quite some time, and we could still take more.
Meanwhile, the other performances are also memorable but quite regular. Fazal makes his character stand out — not only by being the only brown man in the sea of white, but by giving him unique mannerisms and a generally threatening demeanor that Indian audiences would have seen in full display in his other work.
In conclusion, Death on the Nile is a fun movie to watch, and definitely a great option for an outing over the weekend. It’s a straightforward movie that doesn’t ask too much from its audiences and delivers the escapist entertainment that we expect, or at least hope, it to.