PG-13, mostly for light gore and murder. There's a little bit of sexuality woven into the movie, but nothing really all that overt. I wouldn't recommend this movie for kids because it really tries to amp up the notion of murder for the big screen, differentiating it from the PBS version of the same material. Also, the film adds a racial element to the story. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
I'm breaking one of my rules. It has always been more of a guideline than a rule, but nonetheless I'm breaking it. I tend to have to watch movies in order of release. But I also saw the release of Death on the Nile in theaters as an opportunity to spark some life into my very senioritised seniors. I also was going to teach Murder on the Orient Express, but some people have seen that movie and know who the killer is. So I'm going into Death on the Nile without having seen Murder on the Orient Express...yet.
I think it is part of my obsessive personality that I want to read all of the works of Agatha Christie now. I read two of the Poirot novels and now I want the pleasure of having said that I've read all of them. There's something very readable about Christie's Poirot. We talked a lot about it while reading Death on the Nile. But similarly, that easily translates to film. I'm going say something backhanded and I don't want to apologize for it. It might be pretty hard to screw up an Agatha Christie story. It is actually really hard to write about Death on the Nile because I can't help but think that most of the work was done for Branagh before the movie even started filming. It should be noted that the film version of the movie isn't a direct translation to the screen. There were choices made when adapting the story for film that I will probably discuss later. But Christie's template feels almost made to be filmed. Because she was the Queen of Suspense, much of the pacing of the film is part and parcel with the book. And, yeah, Death on the Nile, the film, commits some acts (potentially crimes) that sequels must do. But I feel nervous attributing these decisions to Branagh so much as I do acknowledge that the heavy-lifting falls to Agatha Christie. Having read the book and then seen the movie, the stuff that really works is the tale of Linnet Ridgeway's murder laid out by Christie herself.
But what I can talk about is the deviation of the film from the book and how a book shouldn't be one-for-one with the movie. I can't stand when people go on about how "the book was better." Books and movies are rarely the same stories. We absorb stories fundamentally differently depending on the medium we absorb them in. But I also want to talk about how Branagh is a different storyteller than Christie. Now, I don't watch the behind-the-scenes supplements to these movies. I watched this on HBO Max like many people did. But from what we can glean about Branagh's tastes based on his history with the classics, I have to imagine that this is a passion project for Branagh. I don't think anyone is twisting his arm to play and direct the Poirot stuff. But it's something that he's now linked to these tales. And as a creator, it is almost his responsibility to tell the tale in his way. I was kind of amazed that he was nominated for Belfast because --and I say this in the nicest way possible --Branagh is kind of a safe director. For as much as the guy is an artist through and through, he often makes things with the studio in mind. These are adaptations that do not challenge. They are almost like a technically proficient fanboy telling a story.
Anything that is added to this story is almost fan service. I know that my friend Bob finds this frustrating when dealing with Star Trek: Picard. We always kind of need that extra level when examining the roots of a character. Picard introduces the notion of a potentially abusive father and a neglected mother to explain Picard's sense of morality. I suppose that Branagh does the same thing by giving Poirot an origin story for his outrageous moustache. Now, I'm going to give Branagh some points for this. Normally, we don't need an explanation for every little thing. It's the Han Solo dice from The Force Awakens for most people. Star Wars, in general, loves giving an origin for everything that appears on screen, down to extended universe stories about a guy stealing an ice cream machine in The Empire Strikes Back. The moustache background is dumb. I can't deny that. But all of the surrounding content about the moustache actually gives Death on the Nile a tangible theme. Because as much as I love Christie, her themes are fairly superficial due to the fact that she's writing for the sake of entertainment and profit.
I like the idea that Poirot has a story about love when it comes to the perversion of love throughout the story. Poirot, in my limited understanding of Christie, is almost a background character in his own right. He's an avatar for Christie, who is there to explain her own genius. He's there to tell us why our theories about murder are right or wrong. He can simply say that a theory is wrong and we're never really meant to question his confidence. (Although, knowing Christie, there's often an explanation to settle our minds.) But with so many characters in Death on the Nile, it is hard to nail down a protagonist outside of Poirot. A protagonist has to have investment in the story and, with the case of Death on the Nile, that investment comes from a sense of loneliness. I mean, it's not like we can expect Poirot to ever really make a change. (If they make another Poirot movie, you know that moustache is going to be grown back. That's the thing about shaving a moustache. It never has to be permanent.)I The whole love theme in the story is something that makes the avatar someone great.
But then there's the element where he's pushing the envelope. By shoehorning Bouc into the story, it makes the world too small. I don't know how many people are obsessed with the first film enough to say, "Hey, where's Bouc?" Bouc, in Murder on the Orient Express, was there as the audience. He was there to provide the right question at the right time to push forward the story without thought that Bouc was part of the actual case itself. (Again, I haven't seen the first film, so I can't give too much input about this.) But it kind of changes one of the key elements of the story. I know why Branagh does it. He wants to create stakes for Poirot. I'm sure it is boring to play the protagonist of a story constantly aloof and cold. By making Bouc have a moment of betrayal, it ramps up the story quite quickly. It gives the story gravitas and makes us feel for the characters. After all, upon Bouc's death, we mourn his passing. Bouc's death is there to make Poirot a more compelling character. If Bouc was a girlfriend, he would be considered fridged.
But I will say this for Kenneth Branagh: he's a much more commercial director than I had ever given him credit for. There's something really pretty and cinematic about this movie. I mean, that's the cinematography, but I like referring to it as a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Gone is the PBS aesthetic. While I can't compare Hercule Poirot as the next James Bond or Jason Bourne, I can say that Poirot is garnering the attention that he would have during Christie's era. Perhaps the stories needed to be a little flashier than the '70s version. But in terms of popcorn mystery, Death on the Nile does more right than it does wrong. Maybe it is because I've read the book, but this seems bombastic and fun. I know that others have criticized the film as boring, but I don't really understand that takeaway. It's a fun film that tries injecting stakes into something that is fundamentally devoid of stakes. But it's a good time and I can't complain about that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.