Sailing its way into cinemas this weekend is Death on the Nile – the long-awaited murder-mystery movie from director Kenneth Branagh. As well as directing the film, Branagh reprises the role of Belgian super-sleuth, Hercule Poirot, alongside a cast that includes Gal Gadot, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright.
Set shortly after the events of Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the film sees Poirot travel to Egypt where he meets up with his old friend, Bouc. After exchanging pleasantries, Bouc introduces Poirot to two of his friends, who recently married and are now in the midst of celebrating their honeymoon.
But while this should be a happy occasion for the couple, someone from their joint past arrives to cast a shadow over proceedings. Keen to escape any unpleasantness, this causes the couple to ditch their plans and instead invite a selection of guests, including Poirot, to board the S. S. Karnak – a cruise ship which is to set sail across the Nile.
At first, taking a cruise seems like the perfect solution, with much merriment on the horizon; but happiness soon turns to horror when a murder takes place aboard the vessel. From here, it is up to Poirot to step in and solve the case, but as bodies begin to pile up, will the detective be able to get to the bottom of this latest mystery?
Now, whether you are familiar with Death on the Nile or not, you should be able to work out from what’s written above, that I have purposefully kept the premise of this movie fairly vague. Due to the nature of the film, and the central mystery being a significant talking point of the story, I’ve not wanted to say too much about it.
I don’t want to spoil the mystery, I don’t want to run-through a long list of suspects, and I don’t want to give too much away. I want those who are looking forward to watching this film to go into it as blind as possible, as I feel this is always best with movies of this genre.
But of course, you may already know a thing or two about Death on the Nile, because while this film is brand-new today, it has previously existed in different iterations, most notably the 1937 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile has also been adapted for both the big and small screen, including a star-studded movie in 1978.
So, there is a strong chance you might know something about the movie. However, despite the existence of other versions of this film, as well Death on the Nile’s status as one of Christie’s most famous novels, there is also a chance you know nothing about it at all.
And it is here that I must hold my hand up and say that prior to watching this film, I was not all that familiar with Death on the Nile. I have never read the book, I have not watched a previous adaptation, and I knew nothing of the story.
I feel it is important to make this clear now, because not only did I manage to solve the mystery in this movie, I worked it out pretty much straight away. I feel this is important to note, not so that I can brag about my fine detective skills (which are pretty much non-existent), but to make it clear that this film is not as clever as it needs to be.
I’m no Poirot, but if I can come up with the solution without really trying, then it suggests to me the film isn’t working hard enough to distract me. Well, not where it counts, anyway.
Death of the Nile throws a lot at the screen, from big star names, to some beautiful scenery, but despite its best efforts to impress, it falls a little short. It’s not a disaster, nor is it a bad movie by any stretch, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential and I do think it loses sight of its main goal.
The first stumbling block is the set-up. Death on the Nile takes too long to get to the first murder, with the first half of the movie moving incredibly slowly.
There are elements of the story which could have been trimmed back, and there are plot points that could have been rejigged or removed. A good murder-mystery needs time to develop its plot and its clues, but this one spends too much time dragging its heels.
At various points (pre-murder), I kept thinking about how some of the scenes could have been edited to quicken the pace. Now, if I’m editing the movie in my mind while I’m watching it, this is a sign that I’ve become preoccupied by the flaws, rather than captivated by the strengths.
The next problem with the film is the cast. Or perhaps what I should say is, the problem lies in what is not quite achieved with the cast.
This film boasts plenty of big names, many of which I looked forward to seeing in the movie, and yet no one really lit up the screen. Every cast member gave a good performance, but every performance felt a little subdued.
If you are going to cast Russell Brand or French and Saunders in a movie, then I want to see them sparkle. I feel that none of the cast were pushed enough, in order to squeeze something special from them.
The final issue I had with the movie is what I mentioned above: I (more or less) solved the central mystery without having to really think too much about it. I don’t believe it was developed enough, and there was too much focus being placed on other aspects of the movie, including some character development for Poirot.
While I welcome a little more backstory for the Belgian detective, I do feel that maybe too much attention was being placed in this area of the film and the mystery plot fell a little by the wayside as a result. This is problematic, because as much as I want a fully-rounded lead character, I also want to be enthralled by the mystery, and I wasn’t.
But while Death on the Nile has its flaws, the film isn’t a dud. Branagh continues to impress in the role of Poirot; the Egyptian backdrop adds a nice bit of exotic scenery (if you ignore some wobbly greenscreen work); and the pace improves considerably once the first murder takes place.
Perhaps most important of all, I would be more than happy to watch another movie in this series, should a follow-up be announced. While Death on the Nile never quite grabbed me in the way I hoped it would, it still provided me with enough entertainment to make it enjoyable.
So, a decent, if somewhat flawed film. One to watch if you’re a fan, or if you enjoyed the previous entry, but it doesn’t quite hit the heights it is aiming for.