Movies

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

Kenneth Branagh's murder mystery lacks glamour.

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The old-school appeal of a big-budget period murder mystery like Death on the Nile—Directed by Kenneth Branagh! Based on an Agatha Christie novel! With movie stars you've heard of! 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.

As for the first, well, I suppose Gal Gadot, who plays a wealthy heiress, can claim a share. But Armie Hammer? Russell Brand? I have no problem with either, but they have all the ineffable Hollywood glow of YouTube interview show hosts. I kept expecting them to appear in scenes with podcast mics and beanies and poor lighting.

The costumes are fine, I suppose, although they never quite wow. There is something stage-y about the various suits and dresses, as if they were borrowed from a particularly well-stocked community theater wardrobe.

But the settings are where this movie really lost me. 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. This is not too distracting when the characters are fully inside with no exteriors in view, but much of the action is set on the ship's deck, and the boat is built to have windows looking out from nearly every room, so that you are always reminded of what's (not) outside.

For what Gadot and her not-so-glamorous co-stars are looking out on is digital scenery, a hokey virtual Egypt, as if the characters had all stumbled into yet another interminable sequel to the video game Assassin's Creed. Everything about it feels ever-so-slightly wrong: the light, the shape of the river, the texture of the sand. It's like the characters are sailing through the Uncanny Valley of the Kings. At one point, a character suggests escaping from the boat and running away. To where? The green screen warehouse next door?

This lack of dazzle would be more tolerable if the story had more verve. 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.

Part of the problem is that the movie's main event doesn't happen until an hour in. I would like to give this movie credit for careful pacing and the methodical building of tension, but instead it just comes off as plodding. It's fairly clear who the victim is going to be long before the murder happens, and equally clear who the "who" is in the "whodunit," even before the "it" happens.

That's a problem for a movie about a supposedly genius super-sleuth who can see all the angles: You can see who is going to be killed from the get-go, and also by whom. Why can't he?

As played by Branagh, reprising the role he played in 2017's Murder on 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.

But Branagh's Poirot is also strangely modern. Poirot was the protagonist of multiple Christie mystery novels, and in her telling, he was a clever noticer of the physical world and expert observer of human weakness. He didn't just know what people did; he understood why. At the same time, there was something ordinary, even unassuming, about him. He could see what others could not in part because others failed to sufficiently see and appreciate him.

Branagh's Poirot, in contrast, comes across more like a detective superhero, with observational abilities that are effectively superpowers, and whose defining attribute is his comically large and well-manicured mustache. Death on the Nile even begins with a tragic origin story that explains how he got his mustache. It's an odd choice, especially since it doesn't really affect anything that happens later in the film. It's a setup without a payoff. But it does make the movie's Poirot a little more like a Marvel hero.

I wanted to like this movie, and I suspect some viewers will appreciate the attempt at something like classic Hollywood filmmaking for adults. (Not that adults are going to see many movies these days.) But it simply doesn't compare to star-studded studio affairs from eras past, nor does it work on its own terms. And anyone who says otherwise is, well, in de-Nile.

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  1. Murder should be glamorous?

    1. It's not that so much, as it is that Christie's novels have a weird but tangible tone of longing for the pre-war era of Europe, when those countries were at the absolute peak of their global power and influence, and their people wandered through the rest of the world with relative ease.

      It's similar to how pop culture today has so much nostalgia for the 1990s, and for the same reasons, even though the 90s was really a cultural shitshow in a lot of ways. Those days just look better in hindsight because the 21st century has been a non-stop sequence of the US and the western nations stepping on their own dicks.

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  2. 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.

    I know those things aren't popular any more with the body-positive young people, but I appreciate Branagh's making an attempt here.

    1. Me too. And looking at Gal Gadot in a low cut evening gown for two hours sounds a lot more fun than watching most of the movies made today.

      Suderman doesn't seem to get that for some reason.

      1. I’m hoping for a director’s cut of one of her films that features at least a half hour of her showering.

        1. That will work.

      2. The problem here is that you also have to sit there and watch her struggle to act.

        Kal-El . . . noooo.

        1. It's incredible how someone with such high levels of screen charisma like Gadot can be such a horrible actress. The only other actor with such a occupational-related disparity like that is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  3. I'm confused. If the movie is lifeless and plodding, then shouldn't Suderman have liked it?

  4. I saw Branagh's 'Murder on the Orient Express' & was incredibly disappointed. One doesn't need CGI for Christie stories.
    I'll probably be disappointed in 'Death on the Nile' too but I'll watch it.

    1. I enjoyed Orient Express. It wasn't groundbreaking cinema, but I found it enjoyable.

  5. Saw this Wednesday. It was ok. Saw that it's at around 60% on the review aggregate sites. That's sounds about right.
    Gal Gadot was miscast in this. She plays a rich heiress that "everyone loves and everyone hates" but she came off as just too nice and charming. Either it was poor directing or she just does not have the acting chops to do that kind of role.

    1. Gadot is wildly hot and charismatic. She is the woman every man wants and every woman wants to be. She very much is miscast in the role of even an attractive rich bitch. Some people are just too appealing to play bad guys.

      1. The weird scene where Gadot's character dressed up in an elaborate Cleopatra costume stood out for me. Gadot just looked embarrassed. Like the character knew it was dumb but was forced into it by her husband.

        1. I mean, she did Wonder Woman 1984. I don't see how she could be embarrassed by anything after that.

      2. She always comes off as nice. Which I’ve heard she is in real life.

      3. Yeah, her real-life personality and overall deficit of acting chops means she's not going to be a very effective heel.

        She was supposed to play Cleopatra in a biopic (although that may have gotten shelved), and you know that there's no way her character would have been anything other than sympathetic ("she's a woman controlling her fate in a man's world!"), rather than the calculating, desperate, and passionate Machiavellian that Cleo really was, and would have been far more interesting.

  6. The CDC published a report yesterday (that received no coverage by the left wing media propagandists) that found (back in 2019) the states with the highest obesity rates had the lowest life expectancies, while states with lower obesity rates had higher life expectancies.
    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-18.pdf

    Since obesity (especially severely obesity) has been the leading risk factor for covid related hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death for Americans under 70 years old, and since other studies have found significant increases in weight by Americans during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, it now appears that obesity (not covid) has become the leading cause of death in America during the past two years.

    And yet, not one recommendation from Fauci, Birx, CDC, state or local health officials urging Americans to lose weight, get more exercise and consume fewer calories.

    1. One of the few articles exposing the CDC's new obesity study (from back in 2019) is at
      https://thefederalist.com/2022/02/11/life-expectancy-lowest-in-states-with-highest-prevalence-of-obesity/

    2. And when Psaki is asked about that, she immediately pivots back to masks and vaccines.

      https://simulationcommander.substack.com/p/the-proper-role-of-science

  7. Watch the David Suchet version. It is infinitely better.

    Branagh is completely wrong for Poirot-- from Christie

    e was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police

    1. I have to say that David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot. I have never seen an actor before or since on stage or screen who has been a better fit both physically and in manner for the role. I still hear his voice every time I open one of Dame Christie's novels.

      1. Agreed to all of the above, David Suchet is Poirot. I cant see it any other way.

        That being said, im fine with a Poirot adaptation with hot ass Gal Gadot in it. 2 good things. No one is expecting it to be as good as the original understandably, as that is the trend nowadays: lackluster remakes with big budgets and small payoffs.

      2. Pedantic correction here, it's Dame Agatha, not Dame Christie. The designation of Dame for a woman is the equivalent of a knighthood for a man. The appellation Sir or Dame is used with the Christian name of the receiver not the Surname.

  8. Reason is a lifeless, plodding take on libertarianism.

    1. Everyone is miscast. Stoss feels like an out-of-place superhero with a mustache.

  9. special talent to make something with Gal Gadot lacking verve and dazzle.

    1. It doesn't take something very special. Just drag it out.

      Murder on the Nile is a relatively straightforward and short book. Unlike Orient Express, not a lot really happens and the murderer is almost painfully clear from the beginning, to the point where you suspect it's a red herring and the real question is the how, not the who.

      It would be perfect for a TV special or hour-long play. However, you have to add a lot of fluff to pad it out to full movie length.

  10. I'm glad I don't have the visual acuity to be distracted by the texture of sand.

    That said, one feature of Poirot novels is that they aren't designed for the reader to piece together themselves. They resemble Sherlock Holmes in that regard. You're watching someone else piece it together with knowledge and information you couldn't possibly have.

    If you want the viewer to be an active participant, then you're probably going to spoil the ending by revealing too much.

    1. That's my problem with most murder mysteries, and I blame most of it on Christie for making it the standard. With Holmes it was about Holmes not the mystery. But the typical murder mystery should really be about the mystery.

      I don't mind late breaking clues, but at least have them all there before the final denouement.

      Or at least turn the trope on its head, like with Columbo. You know you did it, you saw the complete murder, now it's about how Columbo will figure it out.

      1. Or at least turn the trope on its head, like with Columbo. You know you did it, you saw the complete murder, now it's about how Columbo will figure it out.

        Between the description of knowing the who died, who did it, and the underestimation of the detective with unique insight into human behavior, this is exactly where my mind went.

  11. The bad news is that they have already penciled in the next remake of this book for 2033. Can't we get an intelligent and original screen play out of Hollywood anymore?

  12. I don't know how this production is but many of the interpretations I have seen coming from the various BBC and other British networks of Agatha Christie's novels is this arrogance that they can write a better story than the original. Now, I realize that in bringing a novel to the screen involves some kind of revision to fit the different medium but much of it goes too far.

    If I am going to watch an adaptation of a classic English novel to the screen, I expect to see characters who know that somehow the English are exceptionally conscious that the sun never sets upon their Empire. That even though their aristocracy is French (Norman blood and all that), and their Royal Family is German, every Englishman knows that he belongs to a superior race and that even the lowest English man or woman is better than a Frenchman or a German or any of the other lesser races out there.

  13. I felt some similar things about KB’s Orient Express, and I’ve seen so many versions of these adaptations that I barely remember that one. It wasn’t bad, but I kind of crave an adaptation of AC stories that dispenses with stylistic affectations. The last TV version of my favorite AC book, And Then There Were None, was probably one of the most faithful, but it was so atmospheric I feel like I have yet to see the definitive adaptation.

  14. Just buy the book - preferably a paper, used copy. While you're at it pick up some Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and top it off with some Tony Hillerman or Sue Grafton.

  15. Kuwait's government banned Death on the Nile, because it stars Gal Gadot, an Israeli actor who spoke in favor of the Israeli Defense Force and against Hamas.

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