Review: Death on the Nile – Branagh returns with another Agatha Christie ‘Whodunnit’ mystery


Ben Kaiser, News Editor

The Nile; it’s the longest river in Africa that’s full of beauty and wonder. And in this film’s case, it’s a host to a mmmurder. Aboard the cruise ship Karnak, death plagues a honeymoon party, and everyone suspects each other. Now Hercule Poirot [Pwaa-row] must get his mustache comb ready to solve another crime where everyone is a suspect.

Also, I just love the way old-timey detectives would say “mmmurder” with that dramatic emphasis on the m’s. Love it.

“Death on the Nile” is based on the novel by Dame Agatha Christie, nicknamed the “Duchess of Death.” There was a 1978 adaptation that also had a star-studded cast of its time. Christie is well known for her mystery novels, particularly the stories of Hercule Poirot or Miss Maple. Many of her novels, especially Poirot’s novels, have been made into films and TV series.

“Death on the Nile” is directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as the main character, Hercule Poirot. Branagh is well known for his Shakespeare adaptations, directing five movies. He’s also made a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Now it seems Branagh has his sights on making Agatha Christie films. Both this film and its predecessor, “Murder on the Orient Express,” seem to be the start of a new film franchise. Branagh has also directed films outside of literature classics, such as the first “Thor” film, Disney’s live-action “Cinderella,” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

Branagh is also known to cast himself in most of his directed films, usually as the main character in his literature-adapted films. He’s also starred in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Tenet,” “Wild Wild West,” and “Dunkirk.” He’s everywhere!

“Death on the Nile” also stars Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”) as Linnet Ridgeway, Armie Hammer (“The Lone Ranger”) as Simon Doyle, Emma Mackey (Netflix’s “Sex Education”) as Jacqueline de Bellefort, Tom Bateman (“Mystery on the Orient Express”) as Bouc, Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) as Euphemia Bouc, Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) as Salome Otterbourne, Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”) as Rosalie Otterborune, Russell Brand (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) as Linus Windlesham, Ali Fazal (“Victoria & Abdul”) as Andrew Katchadourian, Rose Leslie (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) as Louise Bourget, and comedy duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French (“French and Saunders”) as Marie Van Schuyler and Mrs. Bowers, respectively.

While visiting Egypt, world-renown private detective Hercule Poirot finds himself invited into an eccentric honeymoon party hosted by newlyweds Linnet Ridgeway and Simon Doyle. Poirot begins observing the unease of Ridgeway’s guests as the party boards the Karnak to tour the Nile River. Jacqueline de Bellefort, Doyle’s former fiancée, crashes the party to desperately win Doyle back.

But alas! The next morning, there has been a mmmurder; Linnet Ridgeway is found shot in the head. But as Poirot follows the clues and testaments of Ridgeway’s guests, more are found dead. Who could the killer be? Could it be the new husband who stands to inherit Ridgeway’s wealth? The ex-fiancé who has been stalking the newlyweds for weeks? The jealous doctor who was secretly in love with Ridgeway? The maid whose engagement Ridgeway ruined so she stayed her servant? The lawyer attempting to embezzle her? Professor Plum in the ballroom with the wrench? Wait…

Hercule Poirot comes from a world of detectives that don’t resort to gunfights and loose cannons. He’s a problem-solving sleuth who utilizes deductions and procedures to solve the most impossible of crimes. Even in Christie’s fictional world, Poirot is a well-recognized and reputable private detective. He should also be known as the man with the most extravagant mustache I’ve ever seen.

Poirot has been played by many actors, but I think Branagh brought a lot of depth to this version. The detective deals with having obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which is shown when he can’t enjoy an odd number of desserts. This film also reveals the reason behind that mighty mustache of his, his first love, and his war experience in a flashback prologue. I’m certain that these traits are from Branagh himself and not from previous versions or even from Christie’s novel.

The mystery behind the murder is captivating. Even before Ridgeway’s death, suspicions will unfold as the guests slowly reveal motives of their own. The boat is full of everyone who would want revenge on Ridgeway in one way or another. With this many suspects, I needed someone to pause the film to give me some time to ponder who the killer was. I would have never called the resulting climax, but at least give me a chance.

Two of the actors stirred some controversy while filming. Letitia Wright’s social media was blown up after the actress tweeted a YouTube video featuring Tomi Arayomi, a senior leader of Light London Church. The video, which has been taken down due to YouTube’s terms of service, consisted of the speaker questioning the legitimacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and accusing China of spreading the virus. It also contained skepticism of climate change and had transphobic comments. Wright has since quit social media for the time being.

Regardless of where you stand on those topics, Wright posting that video wasn’t the best idea. However, that is nowhere as damning as to Armie Hammer’s problem.

Since 2021, Hammer has had multiple women coming out and accusing the actor of abuse.  It’s a long list of stuff, including affairs when he was still married and expressing extreme sexual fantasies such as rape, violence, and cannibalism. Hammer has denied all allegations; however, he has been dropped out of several films and talent agencies.

Speculation has been that Hammer’s inclusion hurt the film with the box office and the audience. Production kept Hammer in the film despite the accusations, and fans were outraged seeing his face in the trailer when it was released. I wasn’t even aware of this when I saw the movie, and now looking back, it does have an awkward feel. Maybe the DVD can come with a soap bundle or something.

“Death on the Nile” is a fun mystery, with multiple suspects and an enticing puzzle. The murder and mystery kick off halfway into the film, leaving the first half to introduce and show the characters and their relationship with the soon-to-be-deceased. While it’s a great way to build the tension and hidden inhibitions of the suspects, it does drag a bit. I found myself waiting each morning (out of multiples) for someone to kill somebody already. Critics claimed that this is inferior to the 1978 version, but I never saw it, so I can’t give a fair comparison. Also, I appreciated the mystery more here, unlike “Murder on the Orient Express” since that one I did read before seeing it.

“Death on the Nile” is currently in theaters.