Kenneth Branagh‘s sequel to Murder on the Orient Express may be an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a standard murder mystery. While the market for murder mysteries has proven itself to be quite popular in recent years, with the success of Rian Johnson‘s whodunit Knives Out and Branagh’s previous run with Hercule Poirot, Death on the Nile doesn’t seem interested in being a murder mystery. Its pacing and screenwriting lack the needed momentum to keep the mystery engaging, and the supporting cast just doesn’t exude the charisma often associated with the genre. For all of the flair that Branagh’s direction and acting infuse in the film, Death on the Nile can not escape its poor script.
Death on the Nile is easily one of the most charming period films of the year. There is something to Branagh’s direction that infuses each scene with primal energy. Whether it’s the various interrogations or a dance between two lovers, the blocking, performances, and choreography are all on point. Branagh’s direction here may not be Oscar-worthy, but it keeps the film engaging throughout its 127-minute runtime. But the finest wine aboard this cruise down the Nile has to be Branagh’s acting. Branagh captures the essence of Hercule Poirot through every interaction. Whether it’s as small as selecting what desert to eat, or as large as his monologues, Branagh is a core part of Death on the Nile.
However, the rest of the cast can’t live up to Branagh’s charm. Whether it’s Letitia Wright, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, or Gal Gadot, each of these cast members fails to stand next to Branagh as Poirot. In Spite of these performances, Death on the Nile finds its strength in its world. Thanks to the wondrous work of production designer Jim Clay, costume and makeup designers Paco Delgado, Joban Jit Singh, and Wakana Yoshihara, Death on the Nile is able to transport audiences back to 1930s Egypt. Every member of the crew deserves recognition for their work on the film, because there is truly nothing like Death On The Nile when it comes to period design. Add in cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and you have an electric film that sucks you into every single sequence.
And yet, for as wonderous as Egpypt is, Death on the Nile never feels like a whodunit. It’s storytelling structure falls more in the vein to a send-off film, in spite of it’s existence as the first sequel in a series. The momentary editing is full of bizarre choices that often undermine the performances on screen/ There are action sequences that are made near incomprehendable through the editing. Its these choices that when combined with the larger story make Death on the Nile a dull watch.
And that larger story is often a bizarre film that lacks the depth of a true murder mystery. It’s got an extended opening an epilogue that make the films core theme Love. And as fitting as that is for Valentines Day, it fails to connect to the larger narrative thanks to the underdeveloped murder mystery at the center. It’s a step down from Branagh’s previous entry, and an unsatisfying tale.