At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Death on the Nile “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Mystery/ Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright, Ann Turkel/Runtime: 127 minutes

I think it should be noted at the beginning of this review that the various literary works of iconic mystery writer Agatha Christie have been brought to theaters no less than fifty times and at least one hundred plus times to TV screens in the forms of TV shows and made for TV films respectively. Yet if you have tried to figure out why at any time honestly just take a look at her writing and that should easily give you an answer. This is because every single mystery story that this truly gifted writer ever gave us possesses a puzzler that is a wonderful mix of finely woven, complex, and yet very engaging in equal measure thus making them perfect for the transition over to other mediums. The reason I bring this up is because four years ago we got a wonderful albeit highly underrated entry in that legacy in the form of a new take on the timeless Agatha Christie story Murder on the Orient Express and in the process breathed new life into her iconic detective Hercule Poirot making him a truly engaging and lively (to say nothing of being in possession of a truly glorious mustache) hero to follow. A fact that therefore made future installments something to look forward to….if the powers that be thought they deserved to see the light of day. Thankfully they decided to give another one a shot and as a result, despite delays due to a pesky devil known as COVID, we now get a new take on the iconic story Death on the Nile. A slice of cinema that despite a few more potholes in the road than the last go-around still proves to be a highly engaging and brilliantly sculpted on both sides of the camera mystery for both the casual movie goer and avid mystery lover to enjoy in equal measure time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Opening in Belgium in 1914, Death on the Nile gets underway as we see a black and white prologue that not only helps to further establish the character of Poirot, but also ingeniously explains the origins of his truly magnificent moustache to boot. From there, this slice of cinema jumps ahead to London in 1937 where Poirot is relaxing in a lovely nightclub listening to a beautiful jazz singer by the name of Salomé Otterbourne perform. Trouble soon arises however when Poirot witnesses a heiress by the name of Linnet Ridgeway getting perhaps a bit too close for comfort whilst dancing with a man by the name of Simon Doyle. A man who also happens to be the fiancé of Linnet’s dear friend Jacqueline de Bellefort. From there, the film cuts ahead by about 6 weeks and finds our hero enjoying a vacation in Egypt where he unexpectedly finds his friend Bouc who is in country as a member of Linnet and Simon’s wedding party and who rather quickly and proudly introduces his distinguished friend to the rest of the guest list. A list that includes Bouc’s strict mum Euphemia who never goes anywhere her art supplies cannot go, Linnet’s godmother who rumor has it abandoned her wealth in exchange for living life as a Communist, the godmother’s nurse and close companion Mrs. Bowers, Linnet’s cousin and attorney Andrew Katchadourian, a quiet doctor who is still very much taken with Linnet by the name of Linus Windlesham, Linnet’s maid Louise, and Salomé as well as Salomé’s niece and manager Rosalie who was a classmate of the bride’s. Yet even though there is unease amongst the revelers they still would be having a nice time….that is if Jacqueline wasn’t stalking the newlyweds wherever they went. As such, we see the partygoers have decided to take a lively trip down the Nile on the S.S. Karnak in the hopes of getting away from her. Suffice it to say therefore that when one of the party is the tragic victim of a horrific and quite brutal homicide, it is up to Poirot to put his “little grey cells” to work to try and find the murderer and bring them to justice no matter what…..

Now I am of the firm belief that it does not matter in the slightest if your murder puzzler is one that is a completely novel creation from the roots up or if you are just giving an already existing property like the tale at the heart of Death on the Nile a new coat of paint. I say that because at the end of the day it is a known fact that showing an audience the steps necessary to both piece together and eventually figure out the case at the heart of your slice of cinema can be a very difficult conundrum to pull off. The reason for this is because solving a mystery is a process that occurs mostly within one’s brain and, without the right camera work, a slice of cinema in the mystery genre can ultimately turn out to be a very bland affair that consists mostly of its key investigator showing us a “thinking face” that instead maybe suggests he or she needs to start looking into maybe incorporating some prune juice into their daily diet if you get my meaning. Indeed much like with his 2017 take on Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh does a wonderful job at making the crime at the core of this film its main star as well and mystery lovers will be hooked in seeing how Poirot’s “little grey cells” work out this one. At the same time, it most assuredly does not hurt this slice of cinema in the least that a lot of the early goings-on are able to give us such breathtaking locales like ancient ruins in Egypt or a lively London nightclub since they really help the film insert the foundation for the cast in its proper position. As a result, when the sleuthing really gets underway and people do start dying, you are more at ease with transitioning to something that is a bit more closed off. Indeed had this been done wrong, it really could have resulted in the worst kind of cinematic claustrophobia imaginable. Yet with Branagh giving the viewer the aforementioned gorgeous backdrops and raising the tension slowly but surely rather than all at once, he is able to make the confinement work with the rest of the film rather than against it beautifully and seemingly organically as well.

With that in mind however, we are also able to see that Branagh, working alongside this slice of cinema’s scribe Michael Green, also makes the wonderful creative decision to flesh out the iconic character of Poirot in such a manner during this film’s runtime that we are actually able to get to know him as a person rather than just as merely our guide through the investigation through such plot devices as a flashback to a younger Poirot’s time in the military. Indeed this deep dive into Poirot as a person is especially important to this tale as we see that who our hero is as a person rather than just merely as a detective really do propel him to try and get to the bottom of what seems to be a love triangle that has taken a turn for the tragic. Indeed for this take on Poirot, being the smartest man in the room this time is not enough as we see him wrestle with this horrific crime whilst his chief suspect also gives him an intelligent counterpoint to really immerse himself in his own quite complex and heart wrenching past. Indeed by making his way through a gallery of possible suspects that have all been restricted to the rooms and passageways on a boat that is making its way down the titular river, the choice by this slice of cinema to insert a personal mini-arc for our hero aids it immensely in being just another whodunit in the long and storied list of them. Rather, it gives this slice of cinema a very real and very human heart for its iconic hero whilst also permitting Branagh to provide his take on the character with a wonderful mix of his usual charm and bullheadness, but also relatability and humanity as well.

With the wonderful work done by Branagh in the lead role however, there is no denying that his support cast (again just like with his 2017 take on Murder on the Orient Express) is able to rise to his level of skill and give us a wonderful group of performances in their own right.  Indeed in the role of Linnet, Gal Gadot does a great job at playing a character that is a wonderful mix of flirty, enigmatic, but also warm and yet quite emotionally vulnerable as well especially in the scenes with just her and Branagh where she finds herself able to open up to someone who genuinely cares about her as a person and her well-being and not because she has wealth and prestige. Suffice it to say that it’s another not bad performance from an immensely talented actress. Now I will say that Armie Hammer has been at the center of a truly heinous scandal here recently and as such that scandal most assuredly does cast quite the heavy shadow over his role here, but for what it’s worth he does play his part in this fairly well though I can still nevertheless think of several actors who could have played this part just as well had they decided to recast which, given the accusations being faced by Hammer, might not have been the worst thing in the world. I was also pleasantly surprised by the work done in this by Russell Brand. This is because Brand actually does a great job at playing a legitimately serious character without a hint of humor to be found and I’m seriously hoping he gets offered more roles like this in the future rather than the bratty man-child ones that he played for quite a while there. I also thought that the work done by a wonderfully chilling Emma Mackey as the main suspect and by screen icon Annette Bening as Bouc’s wonderfully cynical mom was also terrific even if their roles are also a bit undercooked at times as it were. If there are a pair of standouts though to be found it would have to be from Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright respectively. Indeed both of these wonderfully talented actresses not only bring a terrific jolt of energy to their respective performances, but they really make their characters feel as three dimensional as they possibly can.

All in all, much in the same vein as he was able to do time and time again in the 80s, but mostly 90s with his incredible and fairly spot-on stabs at various works done by no less a writer than the legendary William Shakespeare himself including his terrific Henry V in 1989, his phenomenal 1996 take on Hamlet, and even his oft overlooked yet quite whimsical and enjoyable Much Ado About Nothing from 1993, iconic helmer/actor Kenneth Branagh has given the world another tribute to another literary talent that he clearly adores. Indeed if nothing else, this take on Death on the Nile should be able to show viewers that Branagh’s skill is just as on point as ever with a perilous saga of obsession and murder giving the director/actor an outlet to provide the world with another fresh stab at a truly timeless story.  A fact that can easily be seen by Branagh and his immensely talented cinematography department making the choice to shoot once more on 65mm film. A creative choice that presents us with a result that not only manage to infuse this slice of cinema’s very present day narrative with a look and feel that is very much the old school of movie magic in the best way possible, but also manages to make for just as much as a grand time as Branagh’s 2017 take on Murder on the Orient Express thereby proving that slice of cinema was no mere fluke by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed like the best narrative orators out there, Branagh does a terrific job at providing enough twists in the material to keep you and the characters locked into a perpetual guessing game of whodunit whilst also providing enough sly retooling to the basic nuts and bolts of the narrative in order to really nail the important parts of the story that should not and wisely are not altered. Suffice it to say that be you a person who has gone on this particular cruise a time or ten or if you are a first time traveler who, having been satisfied with the investigative work done by Mr. Hercule Poirot on his previous puzzler, this slice of cinema proves to be an engaging ride that really truly is as glamorous as it is perilous. Yes it may very well be a typical mystery due to the formula with which it operates, but there is no denying that this retelling of an iconic story from Kenneth Branagh still does a wonderful job at mixing things up with enough skill and flare that it ultimately becomes not only a riveting mystery, but also a slice of cinema that is definitely a true must-see in every sense of the word. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Death on the Nile “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.