Death on the Nile: happier than the Orient-Express [critique]

The new Poirot by Branagh in two words? Vulgar but devilishly fun.

In the world of board games, some productions are suspected of belonging to the “Ameritrash” movement: a portmanteau (“America” ​​and “trash”, if you need a dictionary) which designates a game that wants privilege fun without taking care of elegance (or even efficiency), and which insists enormously on the theme rather than the mechanics – unsurprisingly, a game ameritrash is often, but not always, a warlike and violent thing, full of dice rolls and gleaming hardware. In short, a game designed by accumulation rather than by design. You may see where we are coming from: if Death on the Nile was a board game, we would put it directly not alongside the Cluedo but directly in the box ameritrash. A closed-door police investigation with an exotic setting and a cast stuffed with stars of all kinds… The public success of the bloated Murder on the Orient Express in 2017 greenlighted its direct sequel Death on the Nile -exactly like in 1974, when the cardboard of the Murder on the Orient Express by Sidney Lumet after Agatha Christie fathered four years later Death on the Nile by John Guillermin.. The Covid and the complicated personal situation of one of its actors (Armie Hammer, accused of sexual assault) led Death on the Nile, shot 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 take his film extremely seriously. It is a flashback in the middle of the 14-18 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, the not very credible rejuvenation of Branagh…). 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. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to see the top actresses and actors of the moment happily gut each other over a Machiavellian plot? The problem is that Branagh seems to be taking his film very seriously. The camera twirls and circles around 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 to film 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 feel is a very important theme, very serious for Kenneth Branagh. We recognize here Shakespeare’s transformer (he even cosplayed him in his own film All is True) in cinema ameritrash with its pastries A lot of noise for nothing, othello, Hamlet, Love’s Labors Lost, As you would like, where, remember, there were ninjas and quite a bit of annoyance.

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 hell of a step in front of Death on the Nile. As soon as we decide to take 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 fiery Sophie Okonedo, with the French accent of Rose Leslie… The real surprise being the twilight scene at the end, which even turns out to be furiously moving, almost justifying (we said “almost”) the awkward intro of the film. Here, Death on the Nileunquestionably superior to Murder on the Orient Express. Gosh. Maybe it took a director with an ego the size of Branagh to provoke such sympathetic and completely frivolous pleasure?

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