“Death on the Nile,”  Kenneth Branagh‘s follow-up to his 2017 version of ‘s “Murder on the Orient Express” has finally landed after multiple delays.  At the time, Christie’s story was fresh, but after 85-years can this collection of familiar tropes entertain audiences?

Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter are well aware some modernization was called for.  The ending of “Murder on the Orient Express” was updated to reflect modern morality.  Here they have updated and swapped some characters to be less stereotypical, with the added bonus of painting Poirot as a man ahead of his time.  They have even added a black and white pre-credit sequence which fleshes out the origin of Poirot’s eccentric mustache and his lost love Katherine (Susannah Fielding).  Too often writers are compelled to overexplain what makes a character unique.  In an attempt to validate the character’s behavior they inadvertently excise the very things that make them fascinating.  This opening sequence walks dangerously close to that line but doesn’t overstay its welcome.  It also serves the overall theme of the film, which may be a bit more cynical than most Valentine’s Day audiences are expecting.

The movie then jumps forward to 1937 as we observe Poirot visiting a nightclub to engage in some intense people-watching.  He seems particularly taken by a love triangle forming on the dancefloor.  After a smoldering display on the dance floor, Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) introduces her fiance, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) to her incredibly rich best friend, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot).  At Jacqueline’s urging  Simon and Linnet take to the dance floor as well.  Their startling passionate rug cutting makes it obvious that Jacqueline’s relationship isn’t as strong as she had thought.

Jumping forward another 6 weeks, Poirot randomly runs into his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) and is introduced to his mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening).  A series of unusually convenient coincidences finds them invited aboard the honeymoon steamboat cruise of Linnet and Simon.  Linnet pulls Poirot aside and confides that she fears for her life, not just from the collection of “friends” on board, but also from the bitter Jacqueline who has been crashing all of their wedding events.    At first, Poirot rejects employment by her, but it’s not long till a murder demands his attention.

One often critique is certain films or stories don’t spend enough time fleshing out characters that we are supposed to care about.  Without some form of understanding or connection, their experiences mean little to us.  “Death on the Nile” errs too much on the other side of that.  Half of the movie is spent introducing characters, explaining backgrounds, and setting the stage for the steamboat cruise.   Kenneth Branagh’s direction does provide a lot of eye candy, and his camera is in love with the large, multileveled boat set, but it’s a full hour into the movie before the first murder occurs.  It’s not till even later that we finally get to the most enjoyable part of any Poirot tale, his intense interrogations!   An interesting thing happens once we get to the juiciest part of the script.  The story begins to really lean into its cynicism, the theme apparently being “Love Destroys Lives.”  Sure, greed ruins everything, but even the virtuous characters in the story have had life-altering things happen due to love, or the loss of love.  The final moments of the movie try to hint at a possible happy ending, but one has to wonder, with all the evidence provided in the preceding hours if the couple shown is doomed?

Death on the Nile