Recently I re-watched the entirety of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective stories. I am referring, of course, to Sherlock (2010-2017). I cannot begin to tell you how much I love the series, and specifically the second episode from the third season, titled “The Sign of Three,” is my favorite television program that it has ever been my privilege to view. Still, when I wrote my review of the 2017 iteration of Murder on the Orient Express, I went into a fair bit of detail as to the comparisons between Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). I will simply refer you to that article for more detail on this subject. Before moving on, though, I will share one more insight into the differences between the two. Both claim to use their powers of observations while investigating a case, which is an obvious need for any sleuth. Yet, where Holmes has the strength of his intellect to back up his charges, Poirot seems to opt for the everyone-is-guilty method of questioning until the truth emerges. That is what happens in Murder on the Orient Express, and it is repeated in Death on the Nile. I prefer the variety of an inquisitive mind like Holmes that looks and thinks before accusing.
I am not familiar with Agatha Christie’s stories, so the opening of Death on the Nile was a surprise for me. It starts with the trenches of World War I where a young private Hercule Poirot uses his powers of observation to determine the right moment to attack a bridge. Unfortunately, he is not able to save his captain from a boobytrap, and he is injured in the process. He is visited in the hospital by the English nurse Katherine , his lover, who vows her devotion to him despite his mangled face. We then jump ahead to 1937 and Poirot enters a London jazz club where he is treated like royalty, the result of his fame as a detective. Inside, he witnesses a melodrama unfold. Dancing along with the band’s bluesy strains are a couple off which no one can take their eyes. These are Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and her fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). The only thing that can tear the attention away from their sultry gyrations is the flashy entrance of Jackie’s childhood friend, the wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Much to Jackie’s ire, among those who fall under her spell is Simon. Simon takes Linnet to the floor and it is over between him and Jackie. We then shift to the Great Pyramids of Giza and Poirot is having a rapturous moment gazing upon the ancient Egyptian tombs that is interrupted by an adventurous young man flying a kite. When Poirot is pushed to get up from his chair to reprimand the impertinence of a flying toy next to the majesty of a bygone era, he finds that it is his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman). He and his mother, painter Euphemia (Annette Bening). are traveling as part of an entourage celebrating the marriage of Linnet and Simon. Through them, Poirot is introduced properly to the married couple. He also notices Jackie lurking about, and she has apparently been following the newlyweds since they started their honeymoon. Desiring to have a keen eye around in case Jackie tries anything foolish, Linnet asks Poirot to join them on their cruise up the Nile River on a ship they had rented out solely for their party. Poirot can never resist luxury and agrees, joining a whole host of characters that are honestly too long to list. In private conversation with Poirot, Linnet confides that one of the worries for her with all her money is that she does not have any true friends, and this lack of trust means she believes danger is imminent. Her and Simon think the worst is past them when they are able to board their ship without Jackie. Yet, when they stop at an Egyptian burial site, the married couple narrowly dodges a boulder apparently pushed down at them from above by an unknown assailant. Making matters worse, a little further up the river they are joined by Jackie. Her presence antagonizes Linnet and Simon, and they decide to end their honeymoon early. Before they can disembark, however, they have one last row with Jackie. In a fit of rage, Jackie pulls out a small pistol and shoots Simon in the leg before being rushed away and sedated. The next morning, Linnet is found with a bullet in her temple. Poirot is now called upon to figure out the assailant. Unfortunately, this turns out to not be the only death into which he must look. Two more fall during the course of the investigations: Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie), Linnet’s lady’s maid, and Bouc. This last affects Poirot the greatest, and he leaves off his methodical questioning of everyone aboard in favor of locking everyone in a room and presenting his findings. What emerges is that Jackie and Simon are working together. She had shot him with a blank, giving him enough time to run up to his sleeping wife and kill her. Yet, he had been seen by Louise. Because he ultimately had to suffer the injury, it left Jackie to kill Louise. This act, too, had a witness, Bouc, who Jackie shot while being interrogated by Poirot. When the truth emerges, Jackie takes the gun and shoots her through Simon’s back, killing them. It had all been for the money, of course. The film ends with Poirot, sans his famous mustache, sitting in the same jazz club where he first saw our star-crossed lovers.
This is the main plot line of Death on the Nile. The rest is a series of false leads meant to keep the audience guessing as to who is behind the murders. My girlfriend, who fell asleep despite her desires to the contrary, guessed the killers from the beginning. Hence, she did not have to sit through the endless questioning that, for this reviewer, makes the film little different from Murder on the Orient Express. If you question anyone for long enough, the truth will emerge. As such, it does not seem as clever as other detective stories I have already mentioned. I will credit the predecessor and Death on the Nile for being well shot and acted. Whatever his failings as a sleuth, I enjoy the character of Hercule Poirot. Branagh does a great job with him. His methods are a bit boring, but I like the little details he adds. If something is out of place, Poirot will notice, and that is basically what leads him to the correct conclusions in the end.
There is a great deal in Death on the Nile about love and whether or not anyone should pursue it. It even going so far to say that 1 Corinthians had it wrong about love. As you can probably guess, that caught this Catholic reviewer’s attention. The passage is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.” These are some of the most famous passages on the subject in the English language, let alone the whole of Christendom. It is used at almost every wedding, and for good reason. People often confuse them as relating to the love shared between two people. Instead, they are meant to be a model for how God loves us, and in turn inspire us as to how to love others. The film, though, makes this seem like a tall order. Poirot lost Katherine to a mortar attack. Linnet is murdered by a false lover. Bouc, though not killed out of disordered passion directed at him, nonetheless had to contend with Euphemia not approving of his choice for a beau, the African American Rosalie Otterbourne (Letitia Wright). The suggestion seems to be that love is simply a pathway to ruin. Poirot swore it off completely after losing Katherine, choosing his work instead, though by the end his shaved off mustache would suggest that he is trying to heal. Ultimately, only the love of God can do that, and since none of the characters appear to give much thought to God, then you can understand why they suffer.
Anyway, Death on the Nile is kind of dull all around, as evidenced by my snoozing girlfriend. The performances and filming are well done, but some of the computer generated imagery (CGI) is surprisingly bad. It also had the misfortune of coming out on Super Bowl weekend, which I think is partially responsible for its dismal performance at the box office. Either way, it is a skippable movie.