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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

‘Death on the Nile’ is alluring, but lacks narrative quality

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Image sources: IMDB

A well-defined crime scene, a group of suspects with plenty of motives for murder and a stellar cast. “Death on the Nile,” the new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, certainly shares many of the same ingredients that made “Murder on the Orient Express” such a success, but this version of the story is immediately set apart from the 2017 film by its hero’s state of mind.

In his version of the character, director Kenneth Branagh seeks to present a detective with an intense personal side and a more humane manner of intervention. These traits are central to the works he has chosen to adapt: “Murder on the Orient Express" and “Death on the Nile.”

In both versions, Branagh modifies characters, narrative paths and the order of important events in the original stories. In the present case, the changes operated in two ways: Some seem to have been an interesting choice, while others simply mischaracterize the work, taking away the essence that a given scene should have. “Death on the Nile” is somewhat conceptually anachronistic, just as “Murder on the Orient Express” was.

Diegetically, “Death of the Nile” takes place in 1937. The excellent costumes don’t hide it, as well as the production design of the work, which recreates the time period the plot takes place in. Aesthetically, the film is coherent and beautiful. The photography, signed by Haris Zambarloukos, is harmonic and warm, and the filters are well used. These visual elements are on par with what one might imagine of a story set in Egypt in the second half of the 1930s.

The impasse, however, is in the script. Characters behave in a way that feels out of place and, worse, far from the essence of Agatha Christie’s book, which is a problem for the film.

In general, adaptations can take two directions in terms of the orchestration of the text. The first choice is fidelity. In these adaptations, the departures from the source material are limited and an attempt is made to maintain the soul of the original. The second choice is change, which can occur in varying intensities. These settings can generate amazing results if the changes are consistent with the universe and, more importantly, if they are able to maintain what characterizes the original. Of course, there are also works that make changes, but seem to adapt an entirely different work. In other cases, the changes onscreen serve a stylistic and narrative vision that has nothing to do with the original, but seek to marry the changes with the original. This is the kind of Agatha Christie adaptation Kenneth Branagh makes, but he is only partially victorious in his endeavor.

Certain continuity choices are strange for a film with an investigative plot — for example, the endless dance scene at the beginning. The murder of Bouc (Tom Bateman), a character that is not even in the book, is problematic and entirely out of place. The plot loses a very important person but still makes room for a shameful inversion of the script at the end, referring to hiring Poirot to investigate Rosalie Otterbourne.

I dislike the fact that Poirot shaved off his mustache at the end of the movie, but we know it is something planted from the beginning. The opening scene itself has nothing to do with the book and isn’t relevant to the plot. Nonetheless, it is part of the film’s thematic completeness about love, opening and closing the film as if indicating a cycle. 

“Death on the Nile” is on the ropes of quality. Visually, it’s an impressive piece of work. Narratively, it has its good moments, but they are interrupted by the production’s questionable choices and ​​incoherent changes to the source material. It is a work with solid identity and a stacked cast, but not everyone is put to good use. The director spends too much time with banal things in the first part, taking time away from the investigative process that does not exist here.

I do enjoy the buildup to the murderer’s reveal. Branagh’s performance in this sequence is exquisite, but it’s a pity he used Agatha Christie’s cherished novel to invent a “Poirot origin.” The central discussion, however, remains in the air. And once again, the crime of passion and lines about “doing anything for love” are among the justifications or explanations for bloodshed. 


Title: “Death on the Nile”

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh 

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Ridley Scott, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer

If you like: “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Knives Out,” “Clue”

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5