Death on the Nile: more joyful than the Orient-Express (review)

Death on the Nile: more joyful than the Orient-Express (review)

The 2nd Poirot by Kenneth Branagh in two words? Vulgar but devilishly fun.

Two Cluedo films compete this Sunday on television: Death on the Nile (2022), by Kenneth Branagh and At loggerheads (2019), by Rian Johnson. The editorial team recommends the first, a clever satire of current American society, but its opponent is still not so bad. Here's our packed review, originally published for its big screen release.

Murder on the Orient Express: a routine film (Review)

In the world of board games, we suspect certain productions of belonging to the movement “Ameritrash” : a portmanteau (“America” And “trash”if you need a dictionary) which designates a game which wants to favor fun without taking care of elegance (or even efficiency), and which places great emphasis on the theme rather than the mechanics – unsurprisingly, a game ameritrash is often, but not always, something warlike and violent, full of dice rolls and shiny equipment. In short, a game designed by accumulation rather than by refinement.

You perhaps see where we are going with this: if Death on the Nile was a board game, we would place it directly not alongside Cluedo but directly in the box ameritrash. A closed-door police investigation with an exotic setting and a cast full of stars of all kinds… The public success of the bloated Crime on the Orient Express in 2017 gave the green light to its direct sequel Death on the Nile -exactly like in 1974, when the box office Crime of the Orient-Express by Sidney Lumet after Agatha Christie fathered four years later Death on the Nile by John Guillermin. Covid and the complicated personal situation of one of its actors (Armie Hammer, accused of sexual assault) led Death on the Nile, filmed in September 2019, to experience several release postponements. So here it is, finally, on the big screen, the film having escaped a direct streaming release on Disney+.

From its opening sequence, we understand that Kenneth Branagh (actor and director) seems to be taking his film extremely seriously. It is a flashback in the middle of the 1914-18 War, thickening the past of the character of Hercule Poirot using not really subtle staging tools (black and white, a sequence shot in the trenches, Branagh's not very credible rejuvenation…). Then back to the present (in fact, the year 1937), and the investigation begins, in color and in earnest, around a crime committed in high society on a boat floating on the Nile. Frankly, who wouldn't want to see the top actresses and actors of the moment happily disembowel themselves over the course of a Machiavellian plot?

The problem is that Branagh seems to take his film very seriously. The camera twists and turns around the suspects during interrogations to show that Poirot's logic surrounds them; the arrival of the main suspect is filmed in slow motion and overcut as if it were filming a Nazgûl emerging from Minas Morgul, etc. All sprinkled with a speech on the omnipotence of love and the follies it makes us commit, which we clearly feel is a very important theme, very serious for Kenneth Branagh. We clearly recognize Shakespeare's Transformer here (he even cosplayed him in his own film All is True) in cinema ameritrash with her pastries A lot of noise for nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Lost lovesickness, As you would like, where, let's remember, there were ninjas and a lot of embarrassment.

And yet: despite (or perhaps because of?) all his pomp, his vulgarity, his feverish tirades, and his displayed seriousness, we can't help but take a big step forward Death on the Nile. As soon as we decide to play the game, to accept the style ameritrash and playing detective with Poirot, in fact. And perhaps because the casting is impeccable: special mention to Russell Brand (often unbearable and who is perfect here), to the Dawn French/Jennifer Saunders duo who will please fans of English comedy TV, to the presence of the fiery Sophie Okonedo, with the French accent of Rose Leslie…

The real surprise being the twilight ending scene, which even turns out to be furiously moving, almost justifying (it has been said “almost”) the film's awkward intro. So, Death on the Nileundoubtedly superior to Crime on the Orient Express. Gosh. Perhaps it took a director with an ego of Branagh's dimensions to provoke a pleasure that was as sympathetic as it was completely frivolous?

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