It is just a river in Egypt. Probably.
We often hear people complain about the lack of creativity or originality in Hollywood. Almost exclusively, that complaint is directed at big budget blockbusters and franchises. We know that complaint is completely insincere when we hear nary a peep from those same people about a movie like Death on the Nile. Not only is the 2022 movie Death on the Nile a remake, it’s an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel published in 1937. It’s also been adapted as a radio serial in 1997, a computer game in 1997, a graphic novel in 2007, and an episode of the TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And if we’re being completely honest, the story’s protagonist – Hercule Poirot – is practically a superhero. But, since Poirot doesn’t shoot lasers out of his eyes or have a utility belt, the creativity/originality enthusiasts give him (and others) a pass.
Personally, I don’t care if Hollywood wants to keep remaking movies. What I care about is if a remake can improve upon its predecessors. I went into great detail on this about Poirot’s last adventure, Murder on the Orient Express. That (2017) remake had a high bar to clear over the original film. Death on the Nile…not so much. The original Death on the Nile was made in 1978, has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 76%, had just one Oscar nomination for Best Costume design (which it won), had a pretty solid cast including Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, and Maggie Smith, but grossed just $18 million on an $8 million dollar budget. Based on that, as long as director Kenneth Branagh (also starring as Poirot) didn’t cast any flavors of the moment (he didn’t), there seems like plenty of room for improvement.
(SPOILER ALERT – Nah. With this many adaptations from a ninety-year old book, this one’s on you.)
Having never seen the original myself, I can’t say whether or not the new one is a shot-for-shot remake, but I can say my wife knows the original well, really likes it, and has seen it many times. I also enjoyed Orient Express, so I was looking forward to another murder mystery with Branagh’s Poirot. This time, Poirot finds himself on holiday in Egypt when he spots a dear friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), flying a kite on the side of a Great Pyramid. Yes, it’s weird. I’d like to say this disrespect of a historical monument is a function of the time period, but I live in a country that still has hundreds of monuments dedicated to traitors.
Bouc invites Poirot to join him and a wedding honeymoon party at a swanky hotel in Aswan. The just-married happy couple are Linnet (Gal Gadot) and Simon (Armie Hammer), celebrating with a bunch of friends, business acquaintances, and ex-fiances named Linus (Russell Brand). Yes, it’s weird and not just because of the ex-fiance. Unfortunately, the party is crashed by Simon’s ex-fiance, Jackie (Emma Mackey), who keeps turning up to harass the couple. You see, she’s still in love with Simon, having lost him just six weeks earlier when she introduced Simon and Linnet at a jazz club, even encouraging the two of them to dance. Yes, it’s weird and not just because Simon and Linnet all but have sex during this flashback of their first dance.
Back in the present, the newlyweds Linnet and Simon charter a riverboat cruise ship called the S.S. Karnak, hoping to escape Jackie’s stalking. The party boards, they set sail down the Nile, and all seems okay, even after Poirot warns the couple to just leave and go home to escape Jackie. Don’t be silly, Hercule. If they did that, the movie would be over.
After drinks and merriment for a night, they stop the next day at Abu Simbel to sightsee at the ancient Egyptian temples. Subplots are revealed, a sandstorm sweeps through, and the guests return to the ship only to find Jackie has been taken aboard. This is odd because Linnet had informed everyone upon initial boarding that she had chartered the ship exclusively for them and them alone. Yet, after discovering Jackie aboard, Simon insists to Linnet that Jackie can’t be kicked off the ship because Jackie had already bought a ticket. So, Jackie bought a ticket before Linnet randomly decided to charter her own ship? This can only be if 1) Jackie is a psychic, 2) this is a plot hole from the original book or in the screenplay, or 3) Simon is up to some shenanigans with Jackie and Linnet is too tired from all the sex with Simon (he brags to Jackie that night on the ship that he and Linnet had sex multiple times that day) to make the connection that maybe, just maybe, the guy she met six weeks ago might be the one tipping off Jackie to their whereabouts. Later that evening, Simon and Jackie get into a fight and Jackie pulls a gun and fires at Simon. The two are separated and looked after by different guests and, the next morning, Linnet is dead.
Kind of sprung that one on you, didn’t I? Well, this is a murder mystery and every summary of this film includes noting Poirot investigates the murder of a young heiress and Linnet is the only young heiress in the film. Now that Poirot has something to do besides have a moustache, we learn that all of the guests have a possible motive and opportunity to have killed Linnet through a series of interviews conducted by Poirot. The problem with this plot is Jackie has the serious crazy eyes, is a confessed stalker of Simon, and is on a ship she couldn’t have known to be on. We, as an audience, have also been trained to expect a twist or two in a movie like this, so we sit there thinking Jackie is the killer, but maybe that’s what someone wants us to think.
If the film has a weakness it’s in the execution of the killer’s plan. Killing someone on a boat with only a small number of potential suspects requires a lot of planning, including planting evidence pointing at someone else, if the killer is trying to get away with it. But, the evidence thing does not happen. Sure, the other people all have secrets, but they are all a bit weak as motivations go. When more guests end up dead, it seems even less like there is a plan and more like it can only be the woman who already shot at one person. This is likely the reason Orient Express was better received by audiences than Death on the Nile back in the seventies. Orient Express doesn’t portray any one passenger as a primary suspect and everyone starts on the train together. Audiences are free to suspect any and all passengers. Nile paints itself into a bit of a corner with Jackie. If she isn’t the killer, it seems a little farfetched. If she is the killer, duh. Either way, she is always in the conversation.
That being said, I still enjoyed the film. Quite a bit in fact. Despite the fact that I thought I knew who the killer was the whole time, I still found myself surprised at some of the revelations in the film. I still enjoyed Poirot’s investigation. And I still enjoyed the characters and the performances from the actors. I even still enjoyed Branagh’s insane moustache (though not the explanation for why he has it, given to us in an unnecessary prologue). Some of that might have been due to me having watched Moonfall the night before Nile, but I’d like to think most of it was Nile itself. Probably.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. As far as remakes go, I’d say it achieved its goal. Probably.