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Death on the Nile

Kenneth Branagh’s second time behind the camera and in the starring role of Hercule Poirot is the lavish, all-star murder mystery DEATH ON THE NILE, that’s as great to look at as it is to solve.

As a fan of the 1978 film version starring Peter Ustinov, I went into this version thinking “well I already know who did it, so this could be boring”.

Branagh’s got plenty of surprises up his sleeve, including an opening sequence with Poirot as a young man in the 1914 trenches of WWI, devising a plan to take an enemy bridge. It’s clever, unexpected and serves as a nice amuse bouche to the main story.

Poirot is on vacation in Egypt, soaking up the atmosphere at a Jazz Club and observing many of the clubgoers with all of his Poirot attentiveness.

They include beautiful young Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) dancing seductively with her new fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). When her stunning and wealthy friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) arrives at the club, she and Simon seem to hit it off a bit too well.

Poirot is pulled into their circle and several weeks later he meets up with their travel group, which includes Ridgeway’s Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) her loyal assistant Bowers (Dawn French), Linnet’s former fiancé Dr. Windlesham (Russel Brand in a rare but fine dramatic role), Ridgeway’s attorney Kathadourian (Ali Fazal).

Poirot also connects with his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) and Bouc’s mother (Annette Bening).

Soon they’re all on a beautiful river boat down the Nile to celebrate the recent wedding of Simon and Linnet Ridgeway! Of course, Jacqueline is jilted, angry and predatory, threatening harm to Linnet or herself.

With Poirot and this cast all together in one place, it’s not long before murders are attempted at superbly shot exotic locations. Then the actual murders start piling up, as do the suspects.

Letitia Wright (Black Panther) is another enjoyable piece of the puzzle as she and her mother, Jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) join the river trip and offer up additional clues.

This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in recent memory. Haris Zambarloukos (Belfast. Thor) fills every corner of the screen with jaw dropping detail as his camera swoops in and around the action. Half the thrills are riding along with his camera from beginning to end.

Patrick Doyle’s music score is old fashioned perfection, but never intrusive to the action like Richard Rodney Bennett’s score so often was in the 1974 Poirot classic “Murder On the Orient Express”.

The entire cast is great and it’s a lot of fun to see Saunders & French riffing off each other again.

Branagh clearly has a passion for telling these tales and after his first two forays into Poirot, I’m hoping he’s got plenty more in him. He makes the film’s $90 million budget look like twice that on screen. Branagh brings much more humanity to Poirot than portrayals by other actors. It serves this story of love and loss very well.

Is there any better moment in a murder mystery than that scene when you realize all the players are enclosed in one room and Hercule announces that he is about to solve the riddle of whodunit? As Branagh says powerfully, shutting the doors behind him, “The murderer is here…and will stay here.”


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