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Review: 'Death on the Nile' a fun who-dunnit worth the ride

Posted at 11:31 AM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 11:31:10-05

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

IF...and that's a big if...you can get over the inclusion of Armie Hammer, you may find "Death on the Nile" to be a fun, old-school diversion.

Hammer - who denies all allegations against him - has recently been accused of sexual assault, rape and even cannibalism (some weird stuff to be sure), and his presence hangs over the film like a dark cloud.

Grade: B

The movie itself has faced an uphill battle to reach screens, having first been set for release back in December of 2019, before being moved several more times, further back and further back, during the pandemic. It then went from September 2021 into 2022, so the film was shot and finished well before the Armie Hammer controversies bubbled-up.

Originally a 20th Century Studios film, its new parent company Disney can't be feeling good about Hammer's inclusion, but his character is so central to the film that it would have needed to be entirely re-shot in order to remove him. So the studio is taking a gamble that audiences will either not know or will not care about his involvement.

Again - IF - you accept Hammer's involvement, then "Death on the Nile" is actually quite good, for what it is: A who-dunnit set in an exotic location, and featuring the famed, world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), off on another exciting adventure.

Poirot is a creation from legendary author Agatha Christie, one of her most well-known and well-liked. The eccentric, twirly-mustache-wearing detective appeared in over half (33 to be exact) of her novels, and more than 50 short stories. He has been portrayed on stage, TV and in movies, most recently in the updated "Murder on the Orient Express," which starred Kenneth Branagh in the role, in a film that he also directed.

Now comes "Death on the Nile," also starring and directed by Branagh, which is not so much a sequel to "Murder on the Orient Express" as it is just another chapter in Branagh's incarnation of the character. Poirot finds himself on vacation in Egypt, near the Nile river, and the story builds in familiar ways: A cast of suspects...ahem, characters assemble on a river boat and then Poirot must uncover a sinister plot...as the audience looks for clues and guesses exactly what might have occurred. Of course, like any good detective novel, things are never as they first appear, and the most obvious suspect may just be a red herring...or, they might just want to make you think that to throw you off.

Hammer, Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Tom Bateman, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Ali Fazal, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo make up the wildly different and solid cast of the film. I won't spoil their characters or exactly how they fit together...I'll leave that detective work up to you.

For the first half of the movie, there are no deaths, no murders...curious for a movie called "Death on the Nile." Knowing that a murder has to be coming, the first half of the film is spent on the mystery not of "who-dunnit," but "who-is-it-going-to-be-dun-to." Once a murder does occur, there are surprises, clues both obvious and not-so-obvious, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the end.

Movies like this must stick the landing in order to be worth the time invested, and "Death on the Nile" lands squarely on its feet. The twists are all believable, and Branagh's Poirot is a funny, warm and likeable guide throughout the journey. We even get a bit of character development for Poirot, with bookend scenes that flesh his character out in ways that leave us wanting more of him. With the vast library of Christie novels still waiting to be adapted, Poirot seems to be in good hands with Kenneth Branagh moving forward.

While many may want Armie Hammer to board a slow boat to Shanghai, "Death on the Nile" will have to do...it rises above the controversy and is definitely the movie I hope draws people back to theaters this Valentine's Day weekend.

Grade: B​
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Rated PG-13
Starring: Gal Gadot, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, Armie Hammer
Directed by Kenneth Branagh ("Belfast," "Artemis Fowl," "Murder on the Orient Express (2017)", Thor," "Hamlet," "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Henry V").