Death on the Nile Review: Of Mysteries and Moustaches
As of late, the entertainment world has been pervaded by a glut of gritty detective media and enough true crime documentaries, books, and podcasts to last a person several lifetimes. On the other hand, I’ve always found mystery works of any kind, old or new, designed with artistry and attention to detail in mind far more desirable than this status quo. Thusly, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, based on a novel of the same name by the queen of mystery herself, Agatha Christie, has a special place in my heart. By no means a perfect adaptation nor Christie’s best work, nonetheless the visuals, performances, and music swept me off to a world of dramaticized theater where motives are never simple, and the answer is never what it seems. So, I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for a very long time, and upon seeing it, I can safely say that I was not disappointed. While working diligently to preserve the mystery for your viewing, I am eager to share my thoughts and express why this is easily one of my favorite movies to come out post covid, and has entered my pantheon of favorite crime media to enjoy.
Hercule Poirot, the legendary detective so adept at noticing what is out of place in the world, is once again set to solve a nearly impossible case in a incredibly breathtaking backdrop, this time trading the lavish train locked in place by an avalanche for a elegant paddle boat afloat in the middle of the Nile river. The dangerous creatures that inhabit the waters add to the danger as the Belgian genius races to solve the crime before more of the passengers become victims. This premise was certainly exciting enough to draw me in, as well as the obvious affection I have for the movie’s predecessor and the author whose works they’re based on. I went in hoping for something very similar to Murder, and yet distinctly it’s own, and I was not disappointed in this regard to any degree. Neither Murder nor Death were made with the belief that they were flawless, but rather in true Kenneth Branagh fashion, the flaws present in the movie were embraced and moved past, as the cast and crew sought to strengthen every other aspect. In truth, this movie actually does some lifting of it’s own as far as plots go, seeing as Death on the Nile is considered to be one of Christie’s weaker novels as mentioned above, and it also is not close to Murder on the Orient Express in terms of the mystery author’s original order of events. I am fairly certain that this was chosen as the sequel in this series to provide a striking contrast, creating an amalgamation of burning sand and freezing mountaintops, a physical representation of how both cases are simultaneously crimes of passion and cold, meticulously crafted plans. This is in no way a criticism of Christie’s plots in more mundane setting, and in fact I think those are some of her best works, but in both of his adaptations, Branagh demonstrated a thorough understanding of the difference between visual and literary media, playing to the strengths of filmmaking to tell the story. In this vein, if as I fervently hope, he makes sequels, it could be interesting to slowly wind down with more and more familiar, less dramatic settings, indicating Poirot’s growing weariness and what he has learned, gained, and lost on these last two most extraordinary cases weighing him down. But I digress. The film maintained the best qualities of the first with few exceptions, which I’ll discuss momentarily, but also proceeded to add more to the character of Poirot and all those present, whether they be returning characters or newly introduced. The formula is relatively the same, but less so because of lazy writing, and more so because both Branagh and Christie depict it as Poirot’s formula, not their own. Therefore they make good use of his time spent interrogating to lend massive amounts of character, and most critically, very rarely are the characters who are being interrogated or investigated the only ones who are understood better. Their stories weave in and out obscure in murky ways, and sometimes we even learn more about the great detective as well. If it isn’t obvious, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, so the negative section will be rather short, only consisting of two main issues I have. That is not to say they are the only two issues, but rather they are the only two that made the movie slightly less enjoyable than it could have been for me personally. Firstly it must be said that the music is a direct downgrade from the first movie. Murder’s haunting, unique score was replaced by something altogether less fitting and poetic, although still quite good. The same composer is responsible for both film’s scores, and so I can’t help but wonder if it’s just my own prejudice in that I find Justice to be one of the most beautiful film tracks ever written, and wish that it had been adopted as Hercule Poirot’s theme. And secondly, without giving anything away, there are a fair amount of flashbacks or moments where Hercule Poirot delves into his past, explicitly giving reason for many of the things about the character we assumed are quirks, or who’s origins were a mystery. And that’s just it, a mystery is meant to be solved, not simply answered. I think it would suit the series so much more if, continuing in the vein of Murder, breacrumbs and small recolletions were provided over the course of the movies, clear enough to form a trail for the attentive and the clever, and to provide answers, but never spoonfeeding the audience information about their bizarre and enigmatic protagonist. Perhaps the final riddle of the series could be solving Poirot himself, or if for any reason the films stop being produced, remain unsolved, for those who care enough to pick up the pieces and see what they can put together, as so many detectives must. But, I don’t want to expound upon hypothetical mysteries and muddle my intent; this film is something to behold, and something I know I’ll watch and rewatch in the years to come.