Movie Review: Death On The Nile by Josh Board

This is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Of course, the year is just over a month old, but still. I was worried. The horrible critics on Rotten Tomatoes haven’t been kind to it, and…while I enjoyed the first movie, it was nowhere near as fun as Knives Out. This movie went a bit darker and humanized detective Hercule Poirot with an amazing couple of opening scenes. One of those starts on the battlefield in World War I. The second involves Poirot showing up at a nightclub and being taken by a bluesy jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo). I don’t blame him. As I watched her sing and play slide guitar, and show some sass when she walks onto a riverboat on the Nile…I wanted to see a whole movie about her (in the style of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

I was happy that the first Death on the Nile in 1978 I saw on regular TV as a 12-year-old and could barely remember. And this adaptation of the 1937 Agatha Christie novel puts director and star Kenneth Branagh’s own interesting stamp on it. I certainly don’t think those previous versions had a lesbian couple or any African-American characters. I just remember stuffy British folks like Maggie Smith, Peter Ustinov, and Angela Lansbury. This version has Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and a nearly unrecognizable Russell Brand. And I’m not even going to entertain the debate on Hammer and his career. For some reason, Roman Polanski still makes movies. Mel Gibson is going to make another Lethal Weapon film. And right before the screening of this, I saw news that Alec Baldwin was on the set of his new movie, and he killed somebody just a few months back! So no knocking Hammer, or the studio for having him in this before those stories even broke. Oh, I almost forgot – one of the best actresses around – San Diego’s own Annette Bening – is terrific as always (side note: find her underrated movie Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and thank me later).

This movie starts with a very powerful backstory on Poirot and how he came to grow a mustache and become bitter. It’s a powerful and interesting segment.

The following scene at a night club gives us Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey of SexEducation), who for my money is prettier than Gadot. She introduces her fiance Simon Doyle (Hammer) to Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot), who ends up stealing her best friend’s fiance, and shenanigans ensue! 

Oh, I just can’t talk enough about how much I loved Okonedo playing a sultry singer doing Sister Rosetta Tharpe songs (for Led Zeppelin fans, she’s the one that did the Blind Willie Johnson song “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” before Zep stole it). Her niece and manager Rosalie, is played by Letitia Wright of Black Panther

At Simon and Linnet’s wedding, the jilted lover shows up. They’re worried and get a riverboat for all their guests, hoping to get away from her. She finds her way on the steamer, and a murder takes place, and the investigation begins. Poirot’s jovial but naive friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) is there, with his angry mom Euphemia (Bening). Dawn French and Jennnifer Saunders play Linnet’s godmother and longtime nurse. Brand plays a doctor, who was once in a relationship with Linnet. Her cousin Andrew (Bollywood star Ali Fazal) is a lawyer that’s there, looking angry and wanting Linnet to sign documents she doesn’t have time to read and scrutinize. Louise (Rose Leslie) rounds things out, playing the grumpy maid.

Aside from the intriguing story, you get wonderful costumes by Paco Delgado. There’s also incredible cinematography to make everything look beautiful (I was a bit disappointed to find out the pyramids were the work of CGI). 

And, of course, we’re treated to Poirot’s astute and minute observations throughout the film leading up to his soliloquy as the murderer is revealed. This time, he’s even poking fun at himself which is a delight for us. 

I recommend you check this one out this weekend. 4 stars out of 5.

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