While on vacation on the Nile, Hercule Poirot must investigate the murder of a young heiress. (from IMDB)
After a year-long production delay from 2019 to 2020 and further delay to 2022 because of COVID fears, the ill-fated Death on the Nile has finally arrived. As a semi-sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile continues the exploits of renowned detective Hercule Poirot, the sleuth created by author Agatha Christie. Once again directed by Kenneth Branagh, with the actor also filling the shoes of Poirot, Death on the Nile is a step up from its predecessor, which proved to be a movie that looked great and was well acted, but doesn’t play out as well with subsequent viewings.
I was surprised to settle into my seat in the IMAX theater opening weekend to find that only one other audience member had decided to purchase a ticket as well. I figured with the star-studded cast, the long wait, and decent run of the 2017 film, that there’d at least be a fair turnout. However, after I did some research on what its original release date was, I found an article talking about how doomed the movie is due to some controversial cast members. The time between the movie’s finish and its theatrical release has not been kind on Death on the Nile. For example, star Armie Hammer has since come under fire for alleged infidelity and other lewd accusations, while Russell Brand and Letitia Wright have been the subject of controversy for having a mind of their own to question some of the politics behind the pandemic. Basically, Death on the Nile might have been a hit if it had released in 2019 when it was originally slated to, or even in early 2020. But in 2022, there’s enough controversy to render Death on the Nile sunk before it can ever get out on the water.
Still, as a movie – cast controversies aside – Death on the Nile is a significant improvement over Murder on the Orient Express, which had a pretty convoluted plot and twist, as well as an unusual goofiness to its uneven tone. It was an entertaining movie to watch once, or even twice, but I’ve found attempts to watch it again less favorable. Death on the Nile takes itself a bit more seriously, but its attractive cast and talented actors make it a fun one to watch. I’m a big fan of classic films of the 30s, 40s and 50s, and Death on the Nile does a pretty good job capturing some of that feel. Sadly, there’s a probably-unintentional counter-tone to the movie where some of its messages are undoubtedly “2019,” which makes the movie feel less suited for the time period its set in. The content is also surprisingly (and even shockingly) edgy at times, pushing its PG-13 rating in unexpected ways.
Death on the Nile opens with a WWI battlefield presented in black-and-white where we find a young Poirot in the trenches. His experience unfortunately leaves him with a brutal facial wound — giving some backstory to his uniquely characteristic mustache — that is revealed in such a way to give off sincere Dark Knight Two Face vibes. It’s a gruesome way to start the movie, which takes a pretty upbeat tone from that moment on. Shortly thereafter, we meet Armie Hammer’s suave Simon Doyle and Emma Mackey’s sultry Jacqueline de Bellefort, who grope each other on the dance floor while dirty dancing, with Poirot looking on. It’s uncomfortably sexy for a story set in the 1930’s (a time period which at least “feels” more conservative), but it’s used to set up the film’s forthcoming love triangle. Poirot is still humorously quirky and entertaining in an almost Monk-like, overfastidious way. But Branagh proves again to be a more-than-capable director who artfully tells his “whodunnit” stories. Again, the rest of the cast is solid, with actors like Russell Brand and Letitia Wright, specifically, stepping out from the norm of their usual acting styles and roles.
The look of the movie is slick and pretty in design – particularly when the sets are actually there. The boat where the core of the mystery takes place on is gorgeous, and I really enjoyed how Branagh shot it. Sadly, much of the Egypt visuals are computer-generated, and the use of green screen is more than obvious nearly any time the cast is on land. The scenes in front of the pyramids were especially synthetic in nature. I realize it’s expensive to shoot on location and sometimes impossible to recreate things physically that no longer exist (or existed a certain way nearly 100 years ago), but when movies set in a pre-digital era have a digital look to them, it does a disservice to the end result.
The content is definitely PG-13, with most of it being a few violent visuals and the steamy sensuality between some of the characters. Again, the opening sequence shows Poirot sustaining serious bloody wounds to his face that are shockingly gory. It’s also shown in close-up, which I can attest to via an IMAX viewing is especially intense and unsettling. Later, we a dead body with a bloody circle on their temple and some blood splatter nearby. In another sequence, we see a dead body with a light scar where their throat had been cut, and see some blood splatter on a wall in another scene from that murder. There’s also another murder where a person is shot in the neck and we see a bloody bullet wound there. Finally, we see a close-up of blood soaking into clothing after a person is shot, but it’s otherwise not gory. Language is infrequent with 1 use of “g*dd*mn,” several uses of “d*mn” and “h*ll,” and a couple exclamations of “G-d.” The aforementioned sensuality is mostly shown early in the film when Simon and Jacqueline paw at each other and grind on the dance floor in an awkwardly long sequence. We see some of this again when Linnet and Simon dance together. There’s also a later scene where a married man and woman start kissing and she starts to undo his pants, saying she wants to see the “serpent of the Nile,” or something like that, but they’re interrupted. A scene or so after that, a man comments about having sex with his wife that day three times.
As touched on earlier, the social tensions of the present day do seep their way into this period movie. Racial issues are touched on, especially involving a white man being in love with a black woman. It might seem taboo for 2022, but at the time, such a thing was unheard of. However, in addition to that, Poirot figures out that two older women who are frequently seen around the ship together are actually more than friends but in love with each other, and it doesn’t seem to surprise him in the least (which also seems odd for the time period where this was uncommon to talk about). Like last year’s Jungle Cruise, it doesn’t seem to fit the story and feels shoehorned into it to seem “relevant” for today, but at least it isn’t beaten over your head in the same way Jungle Cruise managed to do.
I can’t comment on how repeat viewings of Death on the Nile will play out, but my first viewing was a very positive one. It’s hardly perfect, but I love a good mystery and I had fun trying to figure out how the murders in Death on the Nile played out. Branagh’s story pacing felt a little off, though, with the movie feeling sluggish at times (and a little too long), but it seemed like he wanted to give characters more screen time before getting killed off, and I can appreciate that. If you’re a fan of the cast or a good murder mystery, Death on the Nile may be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/12/22)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Death on the Nile is now available via digital retailers and will be releasing soon on 4K disc, Blu-Ray and DVD. Along with the feature film, the iTunes digital copy of Death on the Nile includes the following extras:
Death on the Nile in Digital 4K: We were provided a 4K digital copy through Movies Anywhere and watched the iTunes Extras and film on Apple TV. The movie looks gorgeous in 4K and, just like with Murder on the Orient Express, it really pops with color and vibrance! I also really enjoyed watching it a second time. It was my second viewing and my wife’s first and it was fun watching it again with someone who hadn’t seen it yet. I also noticed how great Patrick Doyle’s score was the second time around; I loved his Egyptian flair that was subtle but reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score for The Mummy. Overall, I really enjoyed the vibe of this sequel even more the second time.
Death on the Nile: Novel to Film (15:31) – The first featurette talks about following up its predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express, with another iconic Agatha Christie book. This segment talks about the character of Poirot and Kenneth Branaugh’s portrayal of him. The filmmakers also talk about taking some artistic liberties to invent a backstory for Poirot, and flesh out the lost love from his past. They also talk about bringing back the character of Bouc and how the screenplay changes the story from the book a bit.
Agatha Christie: Travel Can Be Murder (5:53) – Agatha’s family members talk about her legacy and about this story and how it fits in her catalog of mystery novels.
Design on the Nile (11:02) is a wonderful featurette dedicated to the exquisite sets they built for the film – like the hotel and the outside of the Egyptian temple. We see some great behind-the-scenes footage of them shooting on the Karnak boat set, which they built from scratch to scale on a sound stage! They then talk about the characters’ costumes… and Poirot’s iconic mustache.
Branagh / Poirot (5:36) talks about Kenneth as director for the film as well as starring actor. Gal Gadot talks about how different it is to work with someone so devoted like that, and we hear how the cast were encouraged to actually act out their scenes at the movie’s official table read.
Deleted Scenes (10:55) – To round out the extras, there’s an Official Trailer (2:09) and 8 deleted scenes. “The Market” (2:00) shows Poirot chatting with Salome Otterbourne at the market in Egypt. “Poirot’s Cabin” (0:15) is a brief scene where he evaluates the neatness of his cabin, with his clothes laid out on his bed. “Rosalie and Bouc Outside Temple” (0:56) shows the pair kissing outside the temple and arguing about appearances. “Windlesham Jogging” (2:08) is an extended sequence leading up to the murder reveal, showing Windlesham running on the beach beside the boat before coming back aboard. “Poirot Discusses Case” (0:42) shows Poirot looking over the passengers’ passports. “Poirot and Bouc Approach Jackie” (1:56) features the two talking about the case as they go to see her. She then insists on her innocence. “Confronting Bouc and the Otterbournes” (1:15) is a tense scene where Poirot wonders if Bouc warned them beforehand that they’d be interrogated. Finally, “Poirot Orders Books” (0:58) takes place while he is interrogating Salome and he gets distracted by reordering the books on her shelf.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/31/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Simon and Jacqueline dance very sensually at a party, grinding their crotches together, groping and pawing each other, etc for an extended period of time; Jacqueline watches as Simon dances with Linnet and there is some sensuality to their dance as well; We see a couple dancing again in a sensual fashion as the man runs his hands over her legs; A man and woman kiss passionately while standing outside ruins in Egypt. She runs her hands along his clothed body and says she wants to see the “serpent of the Nile” and starts to undo his belt buckle. They are interrupted before anything else happens; A woman comments on how she and her husband had sex twice already that day. He then corrects her by saying it was three times; It’s revealed that two older women are lovers.
Vulgarity/Language: 5 “d*mn,” 1 “G*dd*mn,” 2 “h*ll,” 1 “a” word, 3 “G-d,” 1 “Oh G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see drinking at times throughout the movie, with Jacqueline appearing drunk at times.
Blood/Gore: Poirot is shown in a hospital bed in a black-and-white flashback to his time in WWI. It’s a shocking moment when he turns his head and we see a gory wound on his cheek and upper lip. The camera holds on his face for some time; We see some blood on a handkerchief when a person is shot in the leg; We see a bloody, charred bullet wound on a person’s temple as they’re lying dead. There is some blood on the pillow next to their head; Although not gory, we see a dead body caught in the wheel of the ship and their feet kick the glass window surrounding it; We see blood splatter on a wall; We see a dead person’s body lying on a table with a wound across their neck which is pale and not gory (since they had been in the water); We see a bloody bullet hole in a person’s neck with some blood running down; We then see the body again lying on a table with the bullet wound in their neck; We see a flashback in black-and-white of a person’s throat being cut. While the actual wound on their throat isn’t shown in gory detail, we do see an exaggerated blood splatter fly onto the wall during this; A person shoots another person in the back. We see a close-up of blood soaking into their clothes. We see blood on another person’s clothes as well.
Violence: The whole opening sequence is shown in black-and-white on the battle field and in the trenches of WWI. We see gunfire, explosions, and soldiers falling over dead. A man steps on a trip mine and we later see another man lying in a hospital bed in a large infirmary; A large rock falls and nearly crushes two people (we later see a flashback of this); A person shoots another person in the leg; A dead body is found with a bullet hole in their temple; A person’s dead body is found stuck to the wheel of the ship, we then see their dead body lying on a table; We see a flashback of a person’s throat being cut with blood splattering onto a nearby wall; We see the flashback of a person being shot in the leg; We see a flashback of a person shooting another person in the head; A person shoots another person and we see them die.