Compared to its 2017 counterpart, Death On The Nile is riding strictly on the coattails of multiple delays and publicity nightmares but the fact that the movie itself is fundamentally aground in being somehow more and less than its predecessor will be a blessing or a curse for some people.
Branagh’s love for the central character and the drama surrounding whodunnits is evident at the forefront, picturing almost every scene with an admittedly skittish but zestful pulse that burrows in waiting but bursts out in colorful sparks when the precise moment occurs. Not to mention his added ambiance to Poirot’s aura and character makes him a definite standout amongst an ensemble that tends to get lost in the shuffle from strained performances here to a standout or two there and the rest doing well with the parts they were given; french accent and silly dialogue bits notwithstanding.
From the spiraling Egyptian locales, grimy dirts of a battlefield or sweaty ditzy jazz clubs, visually arresting scenery is aplenty, making use of what’s carried over from its predecessor seamlessly and paved the way for some vintage-optics style-like cinematography. However, while the 65 mm framing I got used to, the rather fake and glossy-looking CG aesthetics accompanying the production design (or lack thereof), I did not. It actually looks less expensive than the previous film and the chintzy editing that follows make it come off like a pricy drink coaster masquerading as a screensaver. The tone is about as parodical as the previous installment, or at least that’s how I see it, costumes and decor are eye-popping, there’s a melancholy ambiance in the atmosphere all about, music was fine and I appreciate the attempt at a psychological portrait of a character analysis for Poirot to highlight the well-chosen operative motif for the film.
But how the film looks and how it presents itself isn’t nearly as big of a chore as the pacing and the script: same problems from the previous movie.
Michael Green’s script bogs down the first half of the movie with a truckload of necessary exposition meant to tie everyone into the eventual mystery to come but it sure takes its sweet time getting to the latter, especially with less focus honed in around the overall foundation crippling the arching story possibilities that were executed much more soundly in the book. I understand why it takes forever to get to where it does but the least Green could’ve done was make the finer details stand out it so we can follow the mystery along.
At the core of the actual mystery is a crime that falls under the usual three motivations and is a nice guessing game for a while before leading up to a conclusion that was admittedly rushed, a little threadbare and predictable. I normally wouldn’t mind a fairly paint-by-numbers story with few surprises of any kind as this is a very old story with very few updates to the presentation but Knives Out was able to better repackage the structure on the all-star murder mystery in a fun and refreshing fashion and not only was that two and half years ago, we’re getting a follow up later this year.
Perhaps it was less the story at fault and more-so Branagh’s direction as his insistence on keeping the action squarely on Poirot overshadows almost everything else but for what it was, what it overcame and what it’ll have to go up against later on……I guess you can do worse.