Saying something is a good film implies a level of artistry and depth that suggests the thing you’re watching is more than just entertainment. But calling something a fun movie can automatically disqualify said movie from being a good film because that implies the movie is only fun, and nothing more. When you apply this thinking to mystery novels, you get a dichotomy between the cozy mystery and the serious psychological thriller. The funny thing is, although Agatha Christie basically invented the cozy, we wouldn’t have serious psychological thrillers without her either. So, where does that leave Death on the Nile? Is it a passable film adaptation of a cozy whodunit? Can it compete with actual psychological thrillers Is it a good film? Or is it just a fun movie?
The answer is that it’s none of these things, and yet, for brief moments, it is all of these things. Unlike his near-perfect Murder On the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh took this Detective Poirot sequel and went full Baz Luhrmann. Death on the Nile hit theaters in February 2022, but let’s face it, most of us are just now getting around to considering watching it. Critics were pretty lukewarm on the flick (it has 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) but the question is, did they watch the movie after having half a bottle of bubbly with their significant other?
Although Branagh attempts to infuse the fairly absurd Poirot with a new level of pathos, the overall feeling of Death on the Nile is more farcical. Arguably, this is what makes reading the original Christie novels so fun: they’re trashy on some level, but the trash is elegantly made. Like with Murder on the Orient Express, the script remixes elements of the original novel’s mystery plot enough to where you’re actually guessing as to the true killer even if you’ve read the book. Yes, the denouement arrives in the same place as the 1937 novel, but that’s not why the movie is fun.
The movie is fun because it’s well-paced and utterly ridiculous. Think Russell Brand can’t play a shifty spurned lover who is also a doctor? Think again! Worried that you won’t buy Armie Hammer as a suspicious newlywed? You barely do, but it barely matters. The cranked-up world of an Agatha Christie mystery is designed to flatten the characters into something less than one dimension. This is how it works: Everyone seems a little phony because you’re not supposed to really know what anyone’s real deal is.
This oddly works with Poirot, too. Cleary, of Christie’s two great literary detectives, Miss Marple was way more interesting; the original innocent-old-lady who knew everything. Murder, She Wrote was even a blatant attempt to Americanize the concept of Miss Marple. But, Poirot is a joke by comparison. He’s got that silly mustache. His catchphrase, “the little grey cells” is a bit meh. He’s obsessed with tiny cupcakes, which, honestly, makes him way less edgy than Sherlock Holmes, who shot cocaine into his veins. So, how do you make Poirot cool?
The answer is simple: You don’t. In one pivotal scene, Poirot can’t hold his liquor, and that’s kind of the whole point. You shouldn’t watch this movie entirely sober either. Whether it’s booze or sugar or something else, Death on the Nile is a movie you’re supposed to watch while holding hands, laughing, and occasionally, jumping. It’s a lightweight thriller, great for a night in. It won’t change your life, but just like one of those cozy books, it will briefly, take you away. And unlike one of Christie’s novels, this is seemingly crafted to be experienced while sitting next to someone else.