Death on the Nile Is a Lifeless and Plodding Take on Agatha Christie

This is the classic appeal of big-budget period murder mysteries. Death at the Nile—Directed by Kenneth Branagh! Based on the Agatha Christie story! You’ve probably heard of these movie stars! Shot before the pandemic!—is supposed to rely on a surfeit of silver screen glamour: glamorous people, glamorous costumes, glamorous settings, and thus, in the end, a glamorous movie.

Gal Gadot plays the role of a wealthy heiress and I think she can get a piece. But Armie Hammer? Russell Brand? They have the Hollywood glamour of YouTube interview hosts, which I don’t have a problem with. They were always expected to be in scenes with poor lighting and podcast microphones.

Although the costumes look good, they don’t really wow me. It is almost stage-y to see the different suits and dresses.

This movie is really disappointing because of the setting. The movie is set on a boat traveling—you guessed it—the Nile, which in this case means is largely set on a set built to look like a boat, surrounded by digital waters and sunsets inserted after the fact. While this isn’t too distracting as the characters remain inside, the majority of the action takes place on the deck of the ship. The boat has windows that look out from almost every room so you’re always aware of what’s outside.

Gadot is looking at digital scenery with her non-glamorous costars. A hokey virtual Egypt. Assassin’s Creed. It feels strange in every way: from the lighting to the river’s shape and texture to the sand. You feel like the characters are sailing through the Uncanny Valley of the Kings. A character offers to escape the boat by running off. Which direction? Is there a greenscreen warehouse right next to it?

If the story was more entertaining, this lack of dazzle might be easier to bear. Sadly, the various setups, intrigues, and inevitable twists and turns before the big reveal are laid out with all the thrill of a tortoise race—one where you can see the winner from the start.

The problem with the film is the fact that it doesn’t get to its main point until about an hour into the movie. This movie is a bit slow and lacks the ability to build tension. You can see who the victim will be well before the murder occurs. It is also clear who “who” is within the “whodunit” before it happens.

This is a big problem in a film about a super-sleuth with a vision that sees all angles. You see from the beginning who will be killed and by who. Is he able to see the angles?

Branagh plays the same role as he did in 2017. Murder aboard the Orient Express, the mustachioed investigator Hercule Poirot is probably the best thing about the movie—he’s charming and slightly loopy and inquisitive, and his mustache is, indeed, rather impressive.

Branagh’s Poirot, however, is quite modern. Poirot was the central character of many Christie mystery novels. In her stories, she described him as a skilled observer of weakness and a keen observer about the world. He understood not only what people did but why. There was also something unassuming about him. Partly because he failed to be seen and appreciated by others, he could see and see what no one else could.

Branagh’s Poirot is, however, more like a superhero detective with superpowers in observation and his comically big and neat mustache. The Nile: Death at the Crossroads The film even starts with a sad origin story explaining how he got his mustache. This is a strange choice because it has no effect on what happens in the movie. This setup doesn’t have a payoff. However, it makes Poirot seem a little bit like a Marvel superhero.

This movie was something I really wanted to enjoy. I think some people will find it enjoyable and reminiscent of classic Hollywood filmmaking for the adults. (Not that). Adults are seeing many movies this week.) However, it is not as good as star-studded studio events from years past. It also doesn’t operate on its own terms. Anyone who claims otherwise, is de-Nile.