Sunday, April 10, 2022

Death on the Nile

Movie Name:
Death on the Nile
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Tom Bateman, Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Emma Mackey, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal, Susannah Fielding, Adam Garcia, Michael Rouse, Rick Warden
Genre: Drama, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on HBO Max

Synopsis and Review:
Kenneth Branagh has been extra prolific these past few years, releasing 4 films since he first tackled the character of Hercule Poirot in 2017's "Murder on the Orient Express". Though the pandemic shuffled some of the release of his films, he has had very well received ones, including "Belfast" which recently won him an Academy Award for best Original Screenplay, and very poorly received ones, such as "Artemis Fowl" which is streaming exclusively on Disney Plus. "Death on the Nile" whose premiere got pushed a few times, is another adaptation from Agatha Christie's novel, and also a remake of the film which premiered in 1978, directed by John Guillermin, which at the time featured an equally impressive cast, fronted by Peter Ustinov with support from Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Olivia Hussey, Jane Birkin, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and George Kennedy. The film follows another case of Poirot, who this time around, finds himself in Egypt, where he encounters a friend and his mother, also traveling, but as guests of a surprise wedding that took place recently between Linnet, a rich heiress, and Simon Doyle, who was previously engaged to someone else, and who in the space of 6 weeks broke it off and is now married to Linnet. As a group of colorful guests celebrates the wedding, Simon's ex-fiancee makes her appearance, much to everyone's surprise. The group decides to board a cruise ship, in order to escape the attention of Simon's ex, though Linnet trusts Poirot that she does not trust any of her guests on the ship. When Linnet is murdered, everyone on the ship comes under suspicion, since all of them held a grudge towards her, or had a motivation to kill her. Poirot puts his detective skills to good use as he tries to understand what exactly happened during that drama filled evening.
These glossy, over produced films while trying to make a case for "adult minded storytelling", have come to represent somewhat hollow attempts at recapturing the prestige formula without much success. And that mostly happens because while Kenneth Branagh has a flair for the staging of the baroque and opulent, one only has to remember both his version of "Hamlet" and his comic book adaptation of "Thor", most of the characters who appear in both "Murder on the Orient Express" and now "Death on the Nile", are thinly categorized and described. And not even B-movie thinly categorized, or for that matter, TV movie categorized: they barely register at all, without much in terms of motivation, interactions or depth. They appear to be as inert and artificial as the visual effects that capture some version of what Egypt in the 1930s was like. And that's what ultimately becomes the downfall of these adaptations: while lush and impeccably crafted, these films fail to register actual characters with motivations, besides most of them just being by-standers. The acting is also a bit all over the place, with some performers always impressing, such as Annette Bening for instance, while others are painful to watch, such as Gal Gadot. Kenneth Branagh is clearly a talented film maker and actor, but this feature raises the question that he probably shouldn't be tackling material that he may not have much empathy with. This film once again demonstrates there's material for which he can't put that much of a spin on, besides illustrating matters with this dazzling array of great production design and cinematography, backed by various names of an eclectic cast, which sadly don't amount to creating an interesting film. Forgettable.