Kenneth Branagh gives Hercule Poirot a second time around, and he improves.
Kenneth Branagh’s take on “Death on the Nile,” which is finally showing its face in theaters this week, is better than his take on Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” Reprising his role as the detective Hercule Poirot, he manages to give it a better look, a more complex cast, and the kind of nature it’s predecessor wanted. Some of the suspect’s stories are rather dull, and they don’t have the kind of spark that Rian Johnson provided for his A-list cast in “Knives Out,” but you’re still interested to see who the killer is this time.
It’s starts off with a beautifully photographed WWI story, in which Poirot saved his men from an upcoming attack, but couldn’t save his commander in time, which lead to his mouth being covered by that mustache. Branagh also made “Belfast,” which was on my list of the best films of 2021, and he uses the same cinematographer to capture that sequence: Haris Zambarloukos. And plus it’s more affective than the WWI story in “The King’s Man.”
It’s not just the WWI intro that looks great, but also how Zambarloukos photographs the Egyptian landscapes. Visual effects and recreated sets were used to make the Temple of Abu Simbel and the boat the characters travel on. It’s much better looking than “The Mummy” from 2017.
The story also stars Armie Hammer as the suave Simon Doyle, who was originally engaged to Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), only for her to be replaced by the heiress Linnet Ridgeway Doyle (Gal Gadot). They both have a luxury vacation in Egypt, only to have the young lass following them. So, they report her to Poirot, who happens to be on holiday. Or is it a work trip for him?
The movie’s all-star cast now also features Tom Bateman reprising his role as Poirot’s friend Bouc, Annette Bening as his arrogant mother, Leitita Wright as the woman he loves, Sophie Okonedo as the diva singer whom she accompanies (and she lip-syncs the classic songs), Jennifer Saunders as Linnet’s godmother, Dawn French as her friend, Russell Brand as a doctor, Ali Fazal as Linnet’s cousin, and Rose Leslie as a French assistant.
They all end up on a boat traveling on the Nile, and Linnet is then found murdered. As always, Poirot must interrogate the travelers and examine the clues to get to the bottom of this. And as always, the people he interrogates begins to get antsy.
I didn’t care for much of “Murder on the Orient Express,” because, despite the performances, its train made too many stops in Michael Green’s screenplay. I wasn’t sure I was going to like “Death on the Nile,” because of my past experience, but as I started to eat my popcorn, drink my soda, and see the beautifully cinematography, things started to change. Again, not every interrogation scene works, but there are still some interesting ones, and the new A-list cast manages to keep us involved.
This is the second film version of “Death on the Nile” after Peter Ustinov took on the Poirot character in 1978. Branagh continues to do a fine job in front of and behind the camera, and he even gives Hercule Poirot his vulnerabilities. Hammer and Gadot both have style, Mackey is wickedly entertaining, Okonedo and Wright both use American accents in an old-fashioned sense, Bateman is fun, and Bening has attitude. And Branagh knows how to connect with these talents.
“Belfast” is the better movie out in theaters now, but “Death on the Nile” is also worth seeing. I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this follow-up feature. Maybe Branagh is back to connecting with his directing roots. Maybe we’ll find out in his next movie. That’s a mystery.
In Theaters This Friday