Stack Up: ‘Death on the Nile’

How does the film stack up to the mystery?

I think the biggest mystery about this film was if it was ever going to be released. Having been set for release date ever since 2019, it has been a voyage over troubled waters for this film to come into port at cinemas where there may indeed be a murder with no mystery, this film’s box-office takeaway.

The Mystery

“Poirot sighed. He was glad he was no longer young.” Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is enjoying vacation on a yacht down the Nile where he meets the rich, beautiful Linnet Ridgeway who expresses concern of being stalked by her new husband Simon’s, obsessed, ex-fiancée Jaqueline. One night, Linnet is murdered in her sleep and Poirot must determine who the guilty party is, despite every passenger having expressed prior interest in murdering Linnet, and Jaqueline is definitely not the killer.

The best aspect of Christie’s mysteries is her ability to write enjoyable, idiosyncratic suspects. No character is dull, and everyone contributes to the plot in some way. At its most vibrant display is Poirot’s morality. Before the unexpected murder, he expresses how he can always understand the motivation of a murder, but not the method of betraying one’s conscience. Poirot is the kind of honest, humble man whom you can confide in, but who will never, ever place your friendship above the law.

My problem is mainly how watered down the effect of murder is portrayed. The reveal is devoid of much passion, downplaying the emotional and terrifying event that the killing spree that takes place is; “…they stopped talking about (murder victim) and discussed instead who would win the Grand National…it is not the past that matters but the future.” This would not bother me had the tragic climax not occurred only the night before.

Review: 3.5/5

The Film

Kenneth Branagh is rarely a director for hire, and makes films based solely on his love for the source material rather than the popcorn-chomping masses. Last time I saw Branagh on a boat in an exotic location (“Tenet”) eh, things didn’t work out too well for him, so let’s see how the voyage goes this time.

The look and locations of this film are beautifully conveyed and colorfully embellished. I started thinking, “Why am I freezing my butt off here? I should be out there, enjoying the ancient Egyptian settings with enough genteel booze to provoke illegal dumping, hosted by Wonder Woman herself. Of course I would be sharing a men’s cabin with other passengers, perhaps a bunk with Armie Ham — no wait, never mind. I’m fine freezing down here.”

The film takes liberties in removing/replacing characters. An erotic novelist is replaced with a Jazz singer (Sophie Okonedo), a radical student character is deleted with his effects shifted to other characters and Tom Bateman returns from 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” as Poirot’s friend Bouc, replacing the book’s counterpart Colonel Race.

The opening scene details Poirot’s life before crime-solving, explaining he had received facial scarring in a battle similar to scars of Heath Ledger’s Joker; basically Branagh saying, “You wanna know how I got this Stache?” This change made me wonder if Branagh’s next project will be a “Paths of Glory” remake.

Diversity within the cast is expressed brilliantly to project the despicable confines of the time. The biggest standout performances came from Okonedo as a surprisingly wonderful foil to Poirot and Russell Brand who is superb as an English gentleman (he should such more often). The ending brought in a twist I didn’t see coming, one that left me heartbroken at seeing the cost of Poirot being an honest and good man.

The final turn elicited a gasp of shock from the audience, but the biggest shock I found was in how much pity and newfound admiration I now have for Poirot. “I wanted to be a farmer,” he expresses earlier upon mourning the life he once had and now fears trying to achieve. Sometimes scars both physical and emotional never fade, and the only way you can heal is to accept them for the person they have forced you to become.

Review: 4/5

Having read the book beforehand, I guess the film’s mystery for me was spoiled, but I stumbled upon another while viewing; it was which coat pocket out of the five I had placed my tissue into and it took me almost half the film to solve. Being a farmer sounds like a better career for me than the latter.

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