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MOVIES: Death on the Nile - Review

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Death on the Nile is the follow up to Kenneth Branagh’s popular Agatha Christie-romp, Murder on the Orient Express, that boasted an all-star cast and gorgeous cinematography complete with the ready-made source material for the ages. Here he’s back, with the film released hot on the heels of Oscar-nominated Belfast, for another go – featuring an equally all-star cast and equally gorgeous cinematography. But strip away the fa├žade and the problems below the surface of Death on the Nile aren’t hard to work out, even for Hercule Poirot who walks into Death on the Nile the famous person in the room – a world where everyone and anyone knows who is - the world’s greatest detective, and use it as a weapon against him.

The plot is a tale that has been told as old as time – for a better execution of what’s on display here, revisit the 1978 film starring Peter Ustinov, as it this time takes Poirot to a CGI-heavy Egypt where its sets look so artificial it’s hard to be invested in anything going on around you – where he’s asked to watch over Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), the famously wealthy couple on their honeymoon. Linnet confesses that even though she’s taken her friends with her she feels entirely isolated and on her own, and in true Agatha Christie fashion, everyone has a motive. There’s Russell Brand, Dawn French and an always-great Annette Bening but the real star is Emma Mackey, who is a delight and one of the rare saving graces of this film, playing Simon’s bitter ex, prime suspect number one - who can feel rightly bitter as she is the one that introduced Linnet to him when they were together, revelling in every scene she’s in and fully taking advantage of being cast such a role.

The cast of Death on the Nile is as cursed as the characters in the film themselves – Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, the list goes on, who have done themselves no favours and even putting that aside they feel entirely flat and devoid of charisma. Hammer is a blank slate, it’s hard to buy any emotion or believe why two women would fall for his character in the first place given the little chemistry he shares with them both, and on top of that, Gadot manages to deliver the worst line Hollywood reading since Justice League’s “Kal-El, No!” in “…enough champagne to fill the Nile,” no better in context, and the rest of the cast is entirely a non-presence. Even Branagh himself feels on autopilot, and this acts as another addition to his studio misfires that are coming thick and fast after the back of Artemis Fowl. He’s a director who I so want to like as he’s put in enjoyable works in the past – especially in prior studio fare, Thor (for all the lack of personality here, it’s everywhere in that, a real early Marvel accomplishment) and Cinderella have proved his blockbuster credentials – but unfortunately I have been let down by at every turn since then.

The film feels bloated, spending way too much time in its first act – it takes an age to get going meaning that when the murders do happen they almost feel like an afterthought as the bodycount rises leading to a mystery that’s over before it feels like it can truly begin. You’d expect the tension to raise with it too, but it does not – Branagh has manged to do the unthinkable and make such a home run as one of the most thrilling mystery series of all-time somehow boring (Agatha Christie deserves much better than this!). There’s no spark, there’s no personality, the film feels like an empty production-line vehicle that is made especially more obvious by the fact that Branagh just poured his heart and soul into Belfast, a film that – although has issues of its own, has plenty of personal touches that wouldn’t go amiss here in the slightest – anything to prevent the overwhelming feel of emptiness.

Like its characters, Death in the Nile indulges in extravagant displays of wanton excess. An extended prologue features beautiful black and white cinematography by DOP Haris Zambarloukos, yet feels unnecessary to the plot in the present, with the World War One flashback showing how Poriot getting his moustache adding nothing to the character that we didn’t need to know. A trimming of the fat in the pacing was needed at every turn and a more streamlined story might have made it more compelling.

But Death on the Nile, for all the cinematography and its memorable source material has going for it, remains very much a boring affair from the first frame to the last – whilst Murder on the Orient Express was exciting in spurts, this has none of that past excitement and just feels entirely lifeless – all style, no substance – caught up in the technical thrills, the showy extravaganza of it all – that leads for precious room for fun.

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