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Sarah and Shana Watched Death on the Nile

DEATH ON THE NILE poster with the entire ensemble posing dramatically against a sunset with apyramid in the background Gal Godot is front and center in a bias cut gown looking extremely boredDeath on the Nile is a stunningly gorgeous film that somehow manages to be both overdramatic and plodding. It is filled to the rafters with problematic actors wearing opulent apparel.

I watched it on a whim one evening and when I mentioned it to the review team, Shana had just watched it as well. So we’re here to tell you about it.

Sarah: I genuinely enjoyed how bizarre, wooden, and out of sync Gal Godot was. Her character is supposed to be this gravitational center of attraction that people are unable to resist and she is so not. She’s almost always a half-beat behind everyone else, and instead of looking like an irresistible flirt, she more often looks like she’s got indigestion.

Shana: Godot is pretty to look at, but I agree. That’s a metaphor for the whole movie, maybe?

Because my favorite part of Death on the Nile was how freaking gorgeous it is. Every frame is beautiful, even when the movie makes little sense. The setting on a narrow luxury steamboat is fun but impractical. If I was sailing in an area prone to sandstorms, would I build a floating glass box? No.

Did I enjoy watching people in pretty costumes run around on it? Yes.

The entire cast posing at the front of the glass box boat against a cgi backdrop.  No kidding the entire front rom of the boat is two levels of glass

I’ve been viewing old episodes of ITV’s Poirot lately, so I have a soft spot for the fussy Belgian detective.

This version merges and transforms some of the characters, adding Sophie Okonedo as American jazz singer, Salome, in place of the romance novelist. She and her associate are much more mesmerizing than Godot, and they’re the only characters who rattle Poirot.

Sophie Okonedo singing in an early scene of the film in a purple turban and purple gown with a deep v neck
Sophie Okonedo is fabulous in every scene

Salome has many of my favorite lines in the movie, like

“Poirot, if I put a bullet in everyone who took a punch out of me for not keeping to my place, the world would be filled with the bodies of White ladies.”

I also loved Branaugh’s larger-than-life version of Poirot’s mustache. The mustache is the best character in the movie.

The mustache even gets a new backstory.

Show Spoiler

Poirot is injured in WWI, and grows a mustache to cover facial scars

Ken and Poirot's absolutely magnificent moustache
Ken and Poirot’s mustache

Sarah: Sophie Okonedo stole every scene she was in, between her turbans and her ability to convey an entire page of dialogue in one eyebrow lift. Rose Leslie was also great in a limited role, and I would have liked to see more of nearly everyone.

And yes, every last scene was dreadfully opulent, dripping in excess from the set to the costumes and jewelry to even the lipstick and the shoes. It is indeed freaking gorgeous.

But the movie spends so much languid, indulgent time on the scenery and the setting that the people and their complicated backstories and motivations aren’t developed. Instead of being people with plausible reasons for killing someone, they’re pieces on a board.

Granted that board is a custom built ship against a green screen of opulent decadence and gives you a lot to look at beyond the limited character arcs. Branagh loooooooves a spinny camera (count the number of merry go round scenes where the camera revolves around the actors like they’re at a very intense seance).

(Wait, do not, you will get dizzy).

If the people had been given the same weight as the setting, the film would have been 4 hours.

Shana: We had to cut all that plot to give us more time with the mustache.

Even by the solipsistic standards of a Branaugh film, Death on the Nile felt exceptionally self-indulgent. While the rest of the characters’ backstories were trimmed, Poirot’s was expanded, crowding out the mystery storyline. I could have done with fewer scenes of Poirot staring pensively into the distance. It was hard to care about the characters dying when we don’t know much about them.

And what a missed opportunity to rewrite the Egyptian characters into less of an imperialist fantasy!

Sarah: Agreed. There was room for much more characterization and much less mustache.

I was also repeatedly delighted by the random bits of stylistic silliness.

Check out this scene with the ship crew pallbearers carting the victim’s body down the stairs.

Four women of the ships crew in nearly identical hair styles and matching red lipstick cart a wrapped body down some steep stairs except the body is in a sort of canvas sling and there is nothing preventing it from sliding out the front past the very stylish pallbearers

Of note: What is with the hair? The lipstick? The part where the body is clearly going to slide out of that canvas?

Shana: O.M.G.

How did I miss those? That is amazing! I can’t stop laughing

Their hair! Those outfits! The part where that body is definitely not secured.

Sarah: Some parts are So Silly.

Shana: Like the weirdly dark questioning scenes. How did you even find that much darkness when every room had multiple windows?

So, the key question: Is it worth two hours of your time?

Sarah: I watched with Adam over dinner (recommended pairing: spaghetti and wine) and he summed it up perfectly: very pretty, sometimes very silly, and rather boring. The more intense Poirot got, the more dull it became.

Shana: If you’re a hardcore Agatha Christie fan, it’s worth a watch to enjoy the high production values. I’m fast running out of British TV mysteries, so this was a nice film to have on while I was knitting.

Death on the Nile is available on Hulu in the US.

Have you watched Death on the Nile? What did you think? 

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