Murder on the Orient Express screenwriter Michael Green returns and does not quite successfully convey a rationale for the jilted Jacqueline to morph into an obsessive, vengeance-fueled stalker. Other characters are provided preciously few minutes of setup to help us invest in them. Thankfully, the cast came to play; this is especially true of French and Saunders, whose reunion we so desperately need right now.
After the murder occurs and Poirot goes into full interrogation mode, Death on the Nile hits a confident stride. Branagh fills the film with seemingly inconsequential asides that no doubt contain clues for what is to transpire while he narrows his gaze on every passenger. Additionally, he’s given a substantive foil in Salome Otterbourne, a sultry blues singer who’s also seen her fair share of hardship in life, who is quite alluring to our lead detective. It’s this human connection that distinguishes Poirot from literature’s other super-sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Where Homes works with an almost robotic precision of physics and mathematical equations, Poirot is a romantic at heart and capable of seeing the emotional machinations of his suspects as he grills them (the first story’s ending perfectly illustrates this).
“…Branagh, who’s as playful as director as he is solemn as Poirot.”
Part of the plot’s appeal is the overlapping relationships shared by its suspects. Their initial chemistry and subsequent stress are heightened by the fact that all have something to gain, not just from the primary murder but from the various results. The chemistry in the ensemble cast flows naturally, and so does the tension, when the detective starts making his rounds.
It should be noted that this version concocts some new characters and circumstances, but it hews close to the source where necessary. And at the center of it all, is Branagh, who’s as playful as director as he is solemn as Poirot. As he winds closer to the conclusion, his camera sweeps past his cast, allowing us to scan each for the slightest body movement or reveal as we try to solve it ourselves. Death on the Nile is more solid and engaging than Murder on the Orient Express, and despite the questionable presence of Hammer, it makes for a great latter-day career tentpole for Branagh. He will hopefully continue the adventures of Poirot for years to come.
"…will hopefully continue the adventures of Poirot for years to come."