Tag Archives: armie hammer

Review: ‘Death on the Nile,’ Of Murder and Mustaches

I never expected to see a cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery that begins with an origin story of Hercule Poirot’s mustache, but here we are. 

Stately, sumptuous and suspiciously clever, Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile follows largely in the narrative pattern that the director and screenwriter Michael Green established in Murder on the Orient Express (2017): the sets are exquisitely detailed, the costuming is gloriously glamorous, and the hair is perfectly coifed. And the special effects are as good as they can possibly be, except that the entire production displays an air of unbelievable extravagance. 

I suspect that Agatha Christie aficionados and modern moviegoers have one thing in common: a willingness to suspend disbelief. Under that assumption, Death on the Nile is wonderfully entertaining, if a bit bleak in its depiction of humankind. 

Kenneth Branagh returns as the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot, now on vacation in the Middle East during the late 1930s, as war is brewing on the horizon. Known for his great powers of deductive intelligence, even as a young soldier in The Great War, Poirot has become celebrated for his investigatory skills in London, where six months previously, he bore witness to the birth of a love affair in public. 

 The love affair between the foppish Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and the wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) broke the heart of Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), who was both Simon’s intended bride and Linnet’s best friend. After a hasty courtship, the two have married, and wish to celebrate their love by inviting a motley group of people along on their honeymoon trip, cruising the Nile River. 

From the title, we know that murder will occur; from the presence of Hercule Poirot, we know that everyone is a suspect. It is only a question of who and when. 

Once the deadly deed is done late one night, the film plays out to the accompaniment of a ticking clock. As in Murder on the Orient Express, the crime must be solved before the large moving vessel can reach its destination when the sun rises. 

Rather than a cup of tea and warm milk, Death on the Nile serves up a large mug of hot coffee that gradually cools and is continually topped off with another cup of red herrings. The cast members, including Tom Bateman, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Rose Leslie and Annette Bening, look fabulous as they swing in and out of the plot as Poirot investigates in dogged, logical, methodical fashion. 

As he appears to turn his sharp eye of insight on first one suspect, and then another, the busy backgrounds swiftly change, like colliding carousels in the night. Since I am not a detective, nor a writer of mysteries, the increasingly complicated motivations became difficult for me to follow until I gave up. 

Maybe the biggest lesson to learn from Death on the Nile is that you are not as smart as Hercule Poirot. And maybe he isn’t, either. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 11, via 20th Century Studios. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Free Fire’

dfn-free_fire-300A biting, riotously funny ‘crime family’ comedy married to great gun-fu, Free Fire features the best crawling ever seen in an action movie. It’s like Down Terrace meets The Driver with nothing but guns. And a rock or two.

Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump began collaborating creatively on Kill List as both writers and editors, with Wheatley in the director’s chair. That team up has continued through Sightseers, A Field in England, High-Rise, and now Free Fire, a run of films that are remarkable for their diversity in subject matter and approach.

Like Down Terrace, Wheatley’s feature directing debut, Free Fire concerns an extended family of criminals. Unlike the family in Down Terrace, though, most of the criminals in Free Fire are not related by blood, so when the inciting incident occurs, no one hesitates to grab a gun and start shooting, consequences be damned.

The setup is simple: two gangs meet in a warehouse to exchange money for guns. Things are already tense when two members of the opposing gangs recognize each other from a very unpleasant encounter the night before. Moments later, war breaks out.

Wheatley and Jump lay a basic foundation and then add to it as the narrative moves forward. Each character is out for him or herself, and each one is able to justify their actions in their own head and feel good about it. It’s survival of me, me, me!

Because it’s Wheatley and Jump, the dialogue is acerbic and very, very dark. One-liners join forces with muttered exasperations and throwaway darts at others. The gangs divide to conquer and then reunite to survive, but it’s all contingent on the spur of the moment and no loyalty is necessarily lasting.

All the performances are just fine and dandy, bringing authenticity to their anguished desperation. The gun-buying gang is led by Chris (Cillian Murphy); the gun-selling gang is led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley); the middlemen are Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer).

The opposing gang members who come to blows are Stevo (Sam Riley) and bearded Harry (Jack Reynor). The other gun-buying gang member is Stevo’s brother Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), while gun-selling gang members include Martin (Babou Ceesay) and Gordon (Noah Taylor).

Considering the number of gang members, it’s a remarkable feat that Wheatley is able to keep them all sorted out visually. Once the gunslinging gets underway in earnest, the action is clean and comprehensible, and it’s rare to see camera setups repeated, if at all. Laurie Rose once again served as cinematographer, and it’s extraordinary artistry on his part to capture all the action with a variety of lighting, perhaps another benefit of teaming with Wheatley on all his films.

The premise may make it sound like Free Fire is nothing more than a shoot ’em up, but the reality is that Ben Wheatley has once again made a fully fleshed-out, very funny, yet dramatic picture with real substance and a stinger of an ending.

Reviewed at Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, auditorium #6. The film is now open at select theaters in Dallas; check the official site for locations and to buy tickets.

Review: ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’

'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'
‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’
‘The audience never goes out humming the scenery.’ So goes a stereotypical criticism of modern musical theater productions that lack any memorable songs. The same applies to movies, of course, especially one as dramatically inert as Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a lame yet extremely stylish film adaptation of a television series.

The series was created in 1963 and first broadcast in 1964, on the heels of the explosive success of the first James Bond adventure, 1962’s Dr. No.. Ian Fleming, the writer who invented 007 in the 1950’s, contributed concepts to the television series that was eventually known as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., revolving around two espionage agents, an American (Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn) and a Soviet (Ilya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum), who work for an international organization headed by a Brit (Leo G. Carroll).

The new movie is an orgin story, teaming Solo (Henry Cavill) and Ilya (Armie Hammer) for the first time. Their mission is to foil plans by evil people to deploy nuclear weapons in Europe. To do so, the competitive agents work with Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a German who is the daughter (or niece) of a nuclear engineer working for the evil people.

Director Ritchie also wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram, and, after a decently exciting opening sequence, it becomes apparent that the main focus will be on the politely bickering relationship between Solo and Ilya, with Gaby along for the ride, nobly struggling to ignite chemistry with the stoic Ilya as they pretend to be husband and wife.

Cavill and Hammer are certainly good-looking and physically fit men and, as in their past roles, they cut fine images on a big screen without making any deeper impressions. It could well be that that is intentional in this particular movie, but the script doesn’t give them dialogue that holds any interest — it’s not witty or even bluntly comic, to my ear — and so their time together could easily be mistaken for the same experience as watching two mannequins in a department store window: one glance tells the viewer everything. Hammer is so wooden that his stronger emotions must be telegraphed through the excessive use of editing (cut by James Herbert) and pounding musical cues by composer Daniel Pemberton.

(To give credit where it’s due, the highly-buffed surfaces look splendid, thanks to cinematographer John Mathieson, production designer Oliver Scholl, and their respective crews.)

Vikern steals the movie, though it’s petty larceny at best. She is very much a supporting player, though her verve and energy could well have boosted the proceedings as a whole if she had been elevated to a lead role. Then again, it really doesn’t matter who is an obstensible lead during the action sequences, which are shredded beyond the point of reason or logic, or even coherence, admittedly part and parcel of Ritchie’s blithering directorial style over the years.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has style to spare, but that’s not very nourishing, even if all one wants from a movie is a quick bite to eat.

The film is now playing in theaters throughout Dallas.