‘Death on the Nile’ review: Armie Hammer scandal clouds mystery

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There’s at least one moment in “Death on the Nile,” Agatha Christie’s latest adaptation of director Kenneth Branagh, when what’s on screen uncomfortably contrasts with what’s on screen. Lynette Doyle, an enviably wealthy socialite on her honeymoon trip down the Nile, is found shot dead in her opulent room; Her husband, Simon, is an unbearable wreck, crying noisily over her body. Watching this strangely stressful scene, and revealing curiosity, I had to wonder why Simon’s grief was so hollow. Could it be because the character is presented, both in the film and in Christie’s 1937 novel, as a stupid child opportunist? Or could it have something to do with the fact that he was played here by Armie Hammer, the former Hollywood golden boy who many women accuse of sexual assault and sexual assault?

Some would undoubtedly prefer you to cover up that scandal, as if it were accidental or unrelated to the quality of the movie. Separate the art from the artist, or the product from the pretty face, or whatever. This is often easier said than done, depending on your ability to separate fantasy from reality, even if that reality is disputed. (Hammer denied the allegations.) I’m not too bad at it myself; Segmentation, like the suspension of disbelief, is part of the critic’s job and a privilege for moviegoers. However, it seems odd to avoid the issue of Hammer’s alleged misconduct when the film’s distributor sees it as little more than a minor annoyance.

When the allegations against Hammer surfaced last year, Disney reportedly considered re-shooting his scenes with another actor, in the same way that Christopher Plummer replaced the disgraced Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World. (This call was made by director Ridley Scott, producer of Death on the Nile.) In the end, Simon Doyle’s role is so memorable, and Hammer’s interactions with the rest of the group are so extensive, making such a controllable damage possible. And so, after several release date delays—mostly due to the pandemic, though you don’t need to be Hercules Poirot to suspect other motives—the movie finally hit theaters this week, reeking of damaged merchandise and searching for Audience wins. t mind. You may well find this audience, especially among those who ate its predecessor, “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Kenneth Branna as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile.

(Rob Youngson/20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Like the 2017 song, “Death on the Nile” is definitely a mixed bag. It’s nowhere near the still-delightful 1978 John Guillermin, with its authentic Egyptian setting and unforgettable turns by Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Angela Lansbury. But it is not as bad as some might expect or even hope. It’s hard to spoil Kristi’s story, one of her best, even when Branagh and returning screenwriter Michael Green seem determined to prove otherwise. Their film is often a frantic confusion of ancient pleasures and 21st-century sensibilities, a combination that makes some of the visual choices particularly incompatible. (Filmed by Haris Zambarloukos in England and Morocco, the film relies heavily on digitally inspired Egyptian locations, an option that does not overlap too smoothly with its use of 65mm film stock.)

Once again, Prana’s all-encompassing direction – poor lighting, faulty blocking, poorly motivated camera placement – proves less involved than his witty and poignant performance as Poirot, the mustachioed Belgian detective known for his extraordinary, obsessive deductive abilities. Purity and kindness. Joining him this time in the swirling cast are the disappointing Gal Gadot, the outstanding Emma Mackie, the stinging Annette Bening, the raucous Tom Bateman (reprising his role in “Orient Express” as Poirot’s friend Bock), the fiercely sexy Sophie Okonedo, Laetitia Wright and the hard-to-find Russell Brand Recognize it approx. And yes, the eminent Armie Hammer, whose vague bragging is surprisingly effective here, even if it echoes in ways few expected at the time of filming.

Some viewers may find these echoes shocking, assuming they’re watching the movie in the first place. I hate to be too specific, especially for those unfamiliar with Christie’s story, but let’s just say the plot stops at a tiny fraction of Simone’s sexual magnetism, the degree to which he pursues and manipulates—and follows and manipulates—two equally ruthless women. And the film translates this dynamic to the screen with awful, unapologetic, sometimes embarrassing energy: We first meet Simon at a sweaty London nightclub, leading his fiancée, Jacqueline de Belfort (Mackey), through a routine that looks horribly awkward in the 1930s. . We have sex MuchJacqueline confesses to her childhood friend Lynette (Gadot), who is soon to join and steal Simon for herself with the occasional millionaire’s due.

Within weeks, Lynette and Simone are having a wedding in Egypt, where Poirot is a last-minute guest and an angry and vengeful Jacqueline pursues the happy couple at every turn. As you might expect, the deserted lover isn’t the only passenger on the Nile boat who has reason to wish Lynette’s death. Others include a disgruntled assistant (Rose Leslie) and an unscrupulous financier (Ali Fadl) whom, unfortunately, no one has accused of running a “pyramid scheme”. Those with less obvious motives are Salome Otterborn (Oconedo), written by Christie as the best-selling trash novelist but reimagined here as a famous blues singer; niece and business manager, Rosalie (Wright); and outspoken communist godmother to Linnet (Jennifer Saunders), who arrives with a fellow nurse (Dawn French) in tow.

Ali Fadl, Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo look from the deck of a cruise ship in the movie

Ali Fadel, Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo in Death on the Nile.

(Rob Youngson)

Branagh and Green have largely retained the elaborate mechanics of Christie’s stunning murder plot, with her smoke cannons, stolen jewelry and strategic use of nail polish. But they made any number of adjustments elsewhere, mostly with the intention of lending the 1930s a sharper political advantage. The cast is streamlined but diverse. Racism and homophobia are among the minor miscreants in the story. Some of these renovations have proven more effective than others: in the end, we still see a group of discerning tourists while the Egyptian locals remain largely in the background. (This is arguably an improvement in how they are treated in the novel, which is hardly Christie’s only book marred by peculiar motives and Orientalist attitudes.)

Where the text most faithful to the book remains its atmosphere full of lively romance; Jacqueline isn’t the only character here who’s wrestling with an amazing cruelty crazy love Although perhaps overripe with appropriate domestic references to Antony and Cleopatra, the dialogue has its serious charm: As one character notes on the eve of the disaster, love “is not a game played fairly. There are no laws.” In fact, if you were to drink a drink every time someone in this movie described love as the world’s most powerful, all-consuming and dangerous force, you’d pass out faster than Poirot on that fateful night. .

Ah, Poirot. Prana clearly loves this character, and tends to notoriously annoying mannerisms even when he persistently insists on setting an emotional center beneath his pure white suit and whiskers. Perhaps so sentimental I am still skeptical of these films’ insistence on detailing Poirot’s romantic past, which is detailed here in a black and white introduction set during the informant’s military service in World War I. Those are sweet, human touches but they are also the filler touches of the franchise, and I object to them somewhat on the same grounds as I object to the recent sentiments of James Bond, which he played as brilliantly as Daniel Craig. We come back to these spying over and over again because of how good they are at what they do, not how badly they love them.

“Death on the Nile”

classification: PG-13, for violence, some bloody pictures and sexual material

running time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

play: Starts February 11th in general release

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