Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Film Review: Death on the Nile


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Death on the Nile feels like sweeping murder-mystery in the classic Hollywood tradition, with a great cast, excellent direction, but falls a bit short because of its artificiality.

The film is a sequel to 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, where we once again have Kenneth Branagh direct and star as Hercule Poirot.  And once again we have him placed in an exotic location along with an eclectic cast of characters that include:

-Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) - a beautiful heiress that has just her best friend's ex.

-Simon Doyle (Arnie Hammer) - Linnet's newlywed husband who has taken her on honeymoon to Egypt

-Jacqueline Belfort (Emma Mackey) - Linnet's former best friend who is stalking the wedding party all over the world.

-Bouc (Tom Bateman) - Poirot's friend from the first movie who is also invited to the wedding party.

-Euphemia Bouc (Annette Bening) - Bouc's mother who does not put up with his nonsense.

-Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) - a blues singer who Doyle hired for the wedding party

-Rosalie Otterbourne (Letitia Wright) - Salome's niece who also acts as her manager

-Windlesham (Russell Brand) - Linnet's former fiancé who has been invited to the wedding.

-and many others.

All of them are on a secluded luxury boat as a wedding party floating through the Nile.  But then when a murder occurs, Poirot uses all of his considerable deductive powers to find the killer, though that journey will be painful for all involved as secrets are uncovered.

The script by Michael Green wisely takes its time to raise the tension but also to get us to understand all of the characters.  With so many potential suspects, we get a chance to get a sense of their personalities and their relationship to the victim so that we can lay our suspicions on everyone as Poirot does.

First of all, the cast is terrific.  Branagh does an excellent job of letting each member shine in the limited screen time that they have.  This not only draws you to them, but lets you look them over with a suspicious eye.  I was particularly impressed with Russel Brand.  This is the first time I've ever seen him in a movie where he wasn't simply playing himself.  He turns in an actual performance that is quite good.

As with Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh's Poirot is someone whose gift is also their curse.  He cannot help but push hard to find the truth, no matter who it injures.  One of the things I liked about this film is that it plays on our sense of familiarity with the first one in order to push some of the right buttons.  This time we see that is his truly a scarred man, both inside and outside.  His fears and affections are brushed aside in order feed his ravenous hunger for truth and justice, no matter the cost.

And just like the last movie, Branagh is able to take an exotic setting and make us really feel the environment.  Instead of a train, this time we are on a luxury paddle boat/hotel.  The geography of the boat is almost a character in itself and is integral to understanding the mystery.

Thematically, there are several very Catholic themes about love, jealousy, greed, and forgiveness.  Poirot seems to have a reservoir of sympathy that is poured out, even for the guilty.  That isn't to say that everything is purely moral.  There are some hidden affairs and illicit activities that take place, not all of which are shown to be morally wrong.  Also you have characters like Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) who constantly spouts Marxist talking points throughout the film.  As it takes place in 1938, it would make sense that Communism would be fashionable among some and often her sentiments are challenged.

The biggest shortcoming of the movie is how artificial it feels.  Instead of taking us on a journey to the actual Nile, it is clear that most everything is done on green screen.  This may be a simple reality of budget, but it nevertheless takes a great deal of the majesty out of the movie.  What should be moments of sweeping awe instead feel like cut scenes from a video game.  Since Murder on the Orient Express takes place mostly in the snowy mountains, this wasn't really a problem.  But because we want to see the great sights of Egypt, we want to also feel their reality.

Nevertheless, I found myself thoroughly engaged and entertained through until the big reveal, which I will not spoil here.  But there were enough moments that I did not see coming that made this movie a surprise and a delight to watch.

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