‘Death on the Nile:’ a murky mystery

Detective Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie’s eponymous series returns in a modern interpretation of the 1937 slueth novel. “Death on the Nile”, released last Friday, is the fourth screen adaptation of the mystery. (Photo courtesy of @DOTNmovie / Twitter

Take a cruise down the Nile River with director Kenneth Branagh’s latest film, “Death on the Nile” (2022), released in theaters on Friday. “Death on the Nile” taps into a universal story thread that audiences respond to time and time again. Reeling in viewership by asking “whodunit,” mystery films like “Death on the Nile” are appealing because of their predictable approach and unpredictable conclusion. From whodunit to whydunit to howdunit, audiences can depend on this genre of film for consistency.

“Death on the Nile” retains elements of the classic “whodunit” mystery genre with a very close circle of suspects. With all of the cat-and-mouse narrative threads, red herrings, surprise elements and a trail of clues, the film does maintain a lot of similarity to the source material, Agatha Christie’s famous novel of the same name. However, while the film has consistency and some character, it also has a lot of concerns. 

The film looks at the upper echelons of society as a couple embarks for their honeymoon onboard the S.S. Karnak, destined to sail across the Nile River. The seemingly perfect trip is cut short as it becomes a search for a murderer. 

Visually, the film is a sight for sore eyes with an extremely appealing warm color palette and lavish backdrops. The grandiosity is more than appropriate, considering that this is a story of wealthy Europeans sailing through the Nile. Numerous wide shots establish the beauty of the Nile and the Karnak, but many of these shots feel slightly clogged by the huge, discernible amount of CGI involved that begins to make everything feel artificial. Despite this, the film is certainly gorgeous to look at and flows just like the Nile itself. 

One of the most enticing parts about the film is the huge ensemble cast, headlined by Branagh as famous detective Hercule Poirot, along with Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders and Letitia Wright to round out the cast. One of the challenges with navigating such a large cast can be developing each character’s individual narrative as needed and, unfortunately, Branagh’s film falls into this trap. The film doesn’t feel personable, and the fact that the audience almost spends more time trying to understand who the characters are rather than looking forward to the “whodunit” takes away from the purpose of the plot lines. 

“Death on the Nile” does have a huge elephant in the room – and we have to talk about it. One major cast member, Hammer, hasn’t been at recent promotional events and doesn’t have an individual character poster either. Hammer isn’t the only publicity nightmare — with some of Wright’s previous anti-vax statements and Gadot’s tone deaf ‘Imagine’ video coming to light as well — but it is certainly uncomfortable to watch him on screen considering all of the recent, horrifying allegations against him. In early 2021, Hammer was accused of violent rape and physical abuse, and his apparent cannabalistic pleasures were also leaked. It’s difficult to digest, and it doesn’t help that Hammer isn’t exactly playing the “good guy” in this film. The film’s producers said that the coronavirus pandemic was the reason as to why they couldn’t reshoot the film without Hammer, but his presence in the film, but absence in the promotion and publicity of the film, feels awkward — he should’ve been taken out. 

Branagh’s interpretation of Christie’s novel comes in as the fourth screen adaptation of the work thus far, and one of the positive parts is that it works hard to maintain the classic, old-timey feeling that feels so appropriate for “Death on the Nile.” Branagh blew it out of the water with 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which is also a Christie adaptation, grossing $350 million at the box office. In comparison, “Death on the Nile” feels like it is drowning and needs a life preserver. It’s a “watch once and never watch again” type of movie, and if you’re looking for a more captivating “whodunit,” you might be better off just reading Christie’s original novel.