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With: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright, Ann Turkel
Written by: Michael Green, based on a novel by Agatha Christie
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material
Running Time: 127
Date: 02/11/2022

Death on the Nile (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Love Pyramid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Made before Kenneth Branagh's Oscar-nominated Belfast but delayed by the pandemic, Death on the Nile is the follow-up to his underrated Murder on the Orient Express (2017), and returns him to the role of detective Hercule Poirot. In many ways, I like this one better, although the two films are surprisingly different. The new one is open and airy as opposed to the compact, constricted feel of the last film, and this one deepens the Poirot character in many touching, emotional ways. It's also an expert, beautifully-crafted job of filmmaking, with a pleasing balance of flourishes and subtleties.

Poirot is vacationing in Egypt when he runs into his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, also in the last film). Bouc and his mother (Annette Bening) have been invited to a wedding, and they bring Poirot along. As for the wedding, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), has dumped his girlfriend Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and is now marrying her best friend, the wealthy and stunning Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot). While on their honeymoon, Jacqueline proves herself a thorn in their shoes, showing up everywhere and glowering in silence. The couple invites the entire wedding party on a cruise down the Nile, and characters begin to die in violent ways.

The film contains many breathtaking moments, from the sexy (dirty) dancing in an early sequence, to the lusty blues numbers by singer Salome Otterbourne (a dazzling Sophie Okonedo), to Poirot's nervous flirtations with Salome. Branagh captures a sense of heat and air and sand and water as the ship glides beautifully down the river, like a floating ballroom. Gadot moving along the ship's starboard side, her gowns flowing behind her, is like a gorgeous winged flier. And when Poirot fires a gun to signal the start of the solving of the mystery, it's a crackerjack shocker of a montage. I confess I loved Branagh's performance, exploring the darkness inside the detective that makes him cut out everything except the things that make him exceptional. And Agatha Christie's story still holds up; it's a sturdy, crafty mystery that kept me guessing. (I had seen the 1978 Peter Ustinov Death on the Nile, but had happily forgotten the solution.)

The rest of the all-star cast includes Russell Brand (totally unrecognizable as a doctor), Ali Fazal, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Letitia Wright, and Ann Turkel. Sadly, two of the actors present problems. Hammer has been accused of a variety of (sometimes violent) sexual abuses, and Wright appears to be anti-vaccine, and posted a highly controversial video on the subject. It's difficult to exactly figure out how to feel about watching a movie with these "canceled" personalities in it (the movie was completed well before the controversies began), other than to perhaps acknowledge all of it: yes, they did what they did, but they're also part of this movie that is entertaining to me. Sometimes it's uncomfortable, and other times it's not. We can draw a line, but perhaps it can be a squiggly one; it doesn't have to be a straight one.

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