Sunday, June 5, 2022

Mystery Watch: Death on the Nile (2022)

Watched:  06/04/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Kenneth Branagh

I have not read any Agatha Christie, which seems like a really stupid blind spot for me to have, but here we are.  I have also not watched Poirot mysteries on PBS and I haven't watched the older versions of these same stories.  I assumed I'd get to them, and I haven't.  Life is short and I mostly waste it.  I did watch the prior movie starring director/ star/ producer Kenneth Branagh, Murder on the Orient Express, and I thought, as a movie, it was pretty solid. Nothing to win awards, but accomplished what it wanted to do.

But as I have COVID and I was trying to figure out how well my brain was working, seeing if I could follow a Poirot mystery seemed like a good idea.  And the answer is - I could follow it!

I 10,000% suspect that this movie is just the bare bones of the original novel, which I am not looking up to check, as I should read the book at some point and I don't want to ruin it. 

This one had a few things going against it.  

1. Knives Out was released and was better than Murder on the Orient Express, felt more immediate and less like an affectation, and had a better time with its casting of well-known talent playing together.  

2.  It was being made and released during COVID.  There are some sequences in the first hour that are clearly green-screened, and Branagh has my sympathy.  I assume it was a hard shoot.

3.  The cast here is well known-ish, but with two notable exceptions, not the A-listers or beloved-Stateside figures of Knives Out.  (If I go to my parents and say "French and Saunders" I am drawing blank stares.) or Murder on the Orient Express

4.  Let us be candid that Armie Hammer appearing in anything right now is a weird, weird moment because then you have to remember the specific accusations against him, and...  you know.  It's a challenge.  There was no cutting him from the film or minimizing him in his role.  I am unclear what he was really up to, but it was categorically bad.  I suspect this is the last thing in which we will see him.

5.  Letitia Wright has spent COVID as an avid COVID denier (something I take a bit personally as someone sitting here with COVID, Letitia), and generally causing havoc on the usual clockwork sets of Marvel movies by being a conspiracy theorist pain in the ass (individual people's bad behavior on a Marvel set doesn't usually get leaked, which makes me wonder how much Marvel was letting her know "we will fire you").

But, the movie itself: 

I won't do a plot summary.  It's a murder mystery and trying to chunk those out always feels deeply dissatisfying.  To me.  To write.  

Mostly we're here to sort through the very good looking cast.   And the inexplicable decision to have British people playing Americans and Americans playing Brits.  It's not a 1:1 for the film, but it's a wacky choice.  

I do suspect Gal Gadot was a condition of the movie being made by the studio, as here she plays a British aristocrat.  And it's not clear Gadot was or was not attempting a British accent, but if she was, at best, it softened her natural accent and she sounded more American than anything.  Was her character American?  I don't *think* so.  But who knows?  Gal Gadot was perfect for Wonder Woman and she is breathtaking, but she alternately looks like she's delighted at seeing a puppy or sad that a puppy is sad (not that she, herself is sad).  

Ugh.  The cast is too large for a guy with COVID to work his entire way through, but:  almost everyone is underserved because for run-time we focus on the reason Poirot has no sweetie-pie.  I can't say I ever wondered why this was, or that I cared, but it does mean we spend a full 1/4th of the movie on the question.  So, we get Annette Benning playing a Brit (I assume), and typically great, but with too little to do. We get Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French doing entirely their own bit in the film that feels like they had an idea for a movie that was not this movie, that I would probably watch.  Letitia Wright taking her cues for how to do her accent from a sort of Broadway version of the accent she's leaning into.  It's not wrong, but it's a meal.  She's paired as family with the gorgeous Sophie Okonedo, who I hope that's her real singing voice.  Tom Bateman plays Benning's son, and he's good, but I think the movie assumes you remember him from the first film, but...  And deeply noteworthy was Emma Mackey as Armie Hammer's spurned lover.  

I just think the Poirot background stuff here is a bad idea.  Less is more.  We should be kept at a distance from the man's inner workings here as much as we are as he pulls together the threads of his solutions.  A monologue at most - and Branagh should know this.  He was the king of the monolog at one point in cinema.  

There's also a weird level of sexiness that occurs at an Egyptian national site.  Like, I kinda get the bump n' grind at the blues club in the opening sequences, but I less understand the "people can see us, it's miserably hot and a dust storm is coming.  Let's fuck." is a weird choice.  

Frankly, the ending of Murder on the Orient Express was shocking and powerful.  This movie was much more in the spirit of "oh.  Okay.  I guess that's the culprit," because you can't pull that same trick every story.  And that's cool.  But there's a certain lack of weight to the proceedings.

So returning to Poirot, it feels like Branagh decided he was only making two of these, and tacked on a whole bunch of stuff about the character himself that kinda-sorta runs parallel to the main story, and I'm not sure that this was how you do this.  It sure feels like there should have been one more movie for his final scene in this one and slightly more movement toward whatever he wanted to do.

I dunno.  I don't feel great.  The movie is... fine?  Okay?  It's not bad.  It just feels like a missed opportunity, and now I'm kind of wondering if Gal Gadot is a very limited actor, and that's not where I wanted to be at the end of the week.  But I think if Gadot was the "we need an international star", Emma Mackey was a "let's put her in something with stars so people get to know her" casting.  


No comments: