This is a bloated, basically humourless, and simply ridiculous version of Death on the Nile that makes the campy 1978 version look pretty great. I remember, when I saw Hamlet in theatres over two decades ago, an audience member loudly complained about Branagh’s ego in the intermission. I thought, “But it’s Hamlet. He is the star of the play. Of course he’s the centre of the film.” But, watching this movie, that comment came rushing back to me.
I have not read the novel. I do not know if the prologue is in the book. (A quick skim of Wikipedia says it sure isn’t.) The prologue feels preposterous, extremely serious and unnecessary and it makes me want to force Branagh to watch Knives Out or The Last of Sheila to understand the tone he should be looking for here.
Though there are quips from the cast once the actual story starts, it’s not much less self-serious than the bizarre prologue. And that is the fatal flaw of the film, I think. These are puzzle-box mysteries that usually have at least some humour. Branagh seems to have utterly missed that.
He tries to update the film by including people of colour in important roles but this casting leads to a scene where, inevitably, at least one of them has to assert that they don’t need Poirot’s validation. It feels like a lecture. And I’m wondering whether or not I’m watching Agatha Christie. (Another thing: Would Okonedo’s character actually play Britain in real life? I’m not sure but I’m somewhat dubious but I do know that jazz musicians toured Europe at the time. Not sure about blues musicians.)
But that’s a minor quibble. The tone of the whole movie is the problem. And the prologue and epilogue only make it worse. (This is a Poirot mystery! Why are there bookends? What is the point?)