Review: ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022), starring Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright and Jennifer Saunders

February 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright (second from left); Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot (center); Dawn French (fifth from right); Ali Fazal (fourth from right); and Kenneth Branagh (far right) in “Death on the Nile” (Photo by Rob Youngson/20th Century Studios)

“Death on the Nile” (2022)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1937 in Egypt and England (and briefly in 1914 in Belgium), the dramatic film “Death on the Nile” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Celebrated detective Hercule Poirot gets involved in a murder mystery that happens during a glamorous newlywed couple’s honeymoon trip to Egypt, and all of the suspects are the couple’s friends, associates and enemies who are on the trip.

Culture Audience: “Death on the Nile” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of Agatha Christie novels, murder mysteries and the stars of this movie.

Gal Gadot, Emma Mackey and Armie Hammer in Death on the Nile” (Photo by Rob Youngson/20th Century Studios)

Stylish and suspenseful but with some occasional missteps, the 2022 remake of “Death on the Nile” should satisfy fans of retro murder mysteries. The movie stands out for giving famed detective Hercule Poirot more of a personal backstory. Kenneth Branagh, who stars as Poirot and leads the all-star cast, is the director of the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile,” which was written by Michael Green and is based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel of the same name. The book was also made into a 1978 movie that also had a star-studded cast that included Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury and George Kennedy.

“Death on the Nile” centers on a murder mystery that takes place during a wealthy newlywed couple’s honeymoon cruise to Egypt. The 2022 movie version of “Death on the Nile” makes some significant changes in the cast of characters from the book and the 1978 movie. There are slightly less people in the group of suspects, and the group has racial diversity that was missing from the book and the 1978 movie. Branagh, Green and most of the same team of producers (including Branagh) who made 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” (another movie remake of an Agatha Christie novel starring Hercule Poirot) are also behind the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.”

Belgian detective Poirot has been a bit of a mystery himself, but the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” makes a bold move to expose his vulnerabilities, by opening with a flashback scene that shows his personal life before he became a famous private investigator. It’s October 31, 1914, and Poirot is on a World War I battlefield with a group of soldiers near the Yser Bridge in Belgium. Through his highly intelligent deduction skills, Poirot is able to suggest an attack strategy that ends up saving the lives of his military comrades.

Captain Rens (played by Orlando Seale), the group leader, praises Poirot, by saying: “You were right, Poirot. You’re too smart to be a farmer.” But then, tragedy strikes when Captain Rens walks somewhere on the battlefield that accidentally triggers a booby-trap bomb, and he is instantly killed.

Poirot is severely injured in the blast, and he ends up in a hospital. A bedridden Poirot is visited in the hospital by his fiancée Katherine (played by Susannah Fielding), who comforts him because Poirot blames himself for Captain Rens’ death. There’s another reason why Poirot is so despondent: The right side of face has been severely disfigured.

Poirot, who had plans to be a farmer after he got out of the military, tells Katherine that he will understand if she no longer wants to marry him and end their relationship. Katherine professes her undying loyalty to Poirot and tries to cheer him up. She says about covering up his large facial scar: “Simple: You’ll grow a moustache.” And in that moment, it’s explained why Poirot has an unusually large moustache that curls over his face cheeks.

The movie then fast-forwards to London in 1937. A famous nightclub frequented by celebrities is having an eventful night. World-famous socialite/heiress Linnet Ridgeway (played by Gal Gadot) has arrived at the nightclub to much fanfare and media attention. Also at the nightclub are an attractive, newly engaged couple named Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (played by Emma Mackey) and Simon Doyle (played by Armie Hammer), who both love being in glamorous company but are struggling financially.

Jackie and Linnet have known each other since they went to the same high school, but they haven’t stayed in touch and haven’t seen each other in a while. Simon is unemployed and looking for work. Jackie is hoping that Linnet will offer Simon a job in Linnet’s real-estate ventures.

When Jackie and Linnet see each other for the first time in years, they greet each other warmly. Jackie introduces her fiancé Simon to Linnet and boasts about how intelligent and capable he is in real estate development. Jackie asks Linnet to hire Simon. And as encouragement for Linnet to see how charming Simon is, Jackie tells Simon that he should dance with Linnet.

As soon as that happens, you know what’s going to come next: Simon and Linnet dance together, and there’s noticeable chemistry between them. Jackie notices it too, and she looks a little bit wary and uncomfortable.

The nightclub’s entertainment for the evening is an American blues singer named Salome Otterbourne (played by Sophie Okonedo), a talented entertainer who hides her streetwise toughness behind a seductive Southern drawl. (Okonedo is a very good singer, by the way.) Salome’s manager is her niece Rosalie Otterbourne (played by Letitia Wright), who is first seen demanding that the nightclub owner/manager Monsieur Blondin (played by Rick Warden) pay Salome’s entire fee up front, before Salome performs.

Monsieur Blondin tries to act like he won’t pay until after the performance, but Rosalie stands firm and gets what she wants. Rosalie tells him that nightclub owners have a way of suddenly being “broke” and unable to pay an entertainer who performed in the club. This exchange is a nod to what many entertainers had to go through to avoid getting ripped off by unscrupulous promoters and venue owners who tried to cheat entertainers out of their rightful payment. No one brings up race in this movie, but the implication is that these ripoffs happened to black entertainers more than white entertainers.

The characters of Salome and Rosalie represent two of the biggest changes in the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.” In the book and in the 1978 movie, Salome and Rosalie are both white characters, with Salome being a romance novelist and Rosalie being Salome’s daughter. The 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” presents Salome as very forward-thinking and progressive to make her niece her manager, since it was very unusual in 1937 for a young black woman to be a talent manager in the entertainment business.

After this nightclub scene, “Death on the Nile” then fast-forwards six weeks later. Simon and Linnet are now newlyweds who are honeymooning in Egypt. (The movie never shows their courtship.) The honeymoon includes a cruise on the Nile River. What happened to Jackie? She’s become a bitter and jilted ex-lover who has been stalking Linnet and Simon.

Poirot is in Egypt too, traveling alone. He’s taking in the sights of a pyramid when he sees his young friend Bouc (played by Tom Bateman) flying a kite on the pyramid. (Bouc was also in “Murder on the Orient Express,” since he is the nephew of the Orient Express’ owner.) Bouc and Poirot are happy to see each other and marvel at how much of a coincidence that they are both in this remote area.

Poirot’s encounter with Bouc is how he finds out that Bouc and his domineering, wealthy mother Euphemia Bouc (played by Annette Bening) are guests who were invited to be on Linnet and Simon’s honeymoon party trip. All of the guests have gathered at the same hotel before they embark on the cruise on the Nile.

And what a coincidence: Poirot is staying at the same hotel too. And he gets invited to be a part of this honeymoon party. Also invited are Salome and Rosalie, because Linnet was so impressed with Salome’s nightclub performance, Linnet hired Salome to be the entertainment for this honeymoon trip. Another member of this honeymoon entourage is Linnet’s loyal business trustee Katchadourian (played by Ali Fazal), who was a white man named Andrew Pennington in the book and 1978 movie. In the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile,” Katchadourian is also Linnet’s cousin.

Also along for the trip are Linnet’s quiet and timid maid Louise Bourget (played by Rose Leslie); Linnet’s feisty socialite godmother Marie Van Schuyler (played by Jennifer Saunders); Marie’s dutiful nurse Miss Bowers (played by Dawn French); and Linnet’s ex-fiancé Dr. Windlesham (played by Russell Brand), a medical physician whom Linnet dumped to be with Simon. When Poirot later asks Dr. Windlesham why he agreed to go on this potentially awkward honeymoon trip, Dr. Windlesham replies that Linnet invited him and he couldn’t say no to her.

Bouc introduces Poirot to Simon and Linnet. In a private conversation, Linnet tells Poirot about the stalking problem that she and Simon have with Jackie. Linnet wants to hire Poirot to get Jackie to stop stalking the couple. However, when Poirot asks Linnet if Jackie has made any threats, Linnet says no and admits that all Jackie does is show up in the same places and Simon and Linnet and stare at them.

Poirot is candid in telling Linnet that Jackie technically isn’t breaking the law, because Jackie hasn’t made any threats and because Jackie is not trespassing in the public places where she follows Simon and Linnet. However, Poirot agrees to talk to Jackie the next time that he sees her and promises to try to convince Jackie to stop following Simon and Linnet. Somehow, Jackie found out about this cruise, so she’s booked on the same cruise ship as the honeymoon party group.

Linnet also confides in Poirot that she doesn’t feel safe in this group of people she’s invited on her honeymoon. “When you have money, you have no friends,” Linnet says with jaded sorrow. Linnet tells Poirot that she constantly feels as if she’s in danger. It’s a foreshadowing of what will eventually happen to Linnet.

When Poirot meets Jackie for the first time, it’s on the cruise ship. He finds out in their private conversation that Linnet has outshined Jackie, ever since they were in high school together. As an example, Jackie remembers how Linnet replaced Jackie in the Cleopatra role of a school production of “Antony and Cleopatra.” Poirot tactfully tells Jackie that she should move on with her life and let Simon and Linnet be happy together. But Jackie insists, “Simon loves me! A love that fierce doesn’t vanish!”

Poirot then opens up to Jackie about his own heartbreak, when he talks about how he thought he couldn’t live after the end of a love affair with a woman he considers to be his soulmate. He’s obviously talking about Katherine, but what happened to Poirot and Katherine is hinted at and not fully divulged in the movie. Poirot’s eyes tear up when he talks about her, and it’s a rare moment when he shows how emotionally damaged he’s been by this heartbreak.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to speculate that Poirot’s eccentricities and his decision to go into detective work instead of being a farmer perhaps had a lot to do with how he was affected by the end of his romance with Katherine. Poirot is famously obsessive-compulsive. His insistence on sticking to certain habits and believing in certain superstitions are indications that he wants to maintain some type of control in his life. There’s a scene in the movie where Poirot is given seven tiny desserts to eat at his dining table, and he asks that one of the desserts be taken away because he only wants to have an even number (not an odd number) of dishes on the table.

And who gets murdered in “Death on the Nile”? It’s not spoiler information (since it’s common knowledge) that Linnet is found dead of a gunshot wound, in her bed on the cruise ship. A valuable necklace of hers also goes missing around the same time. (In the book and 1978 movie, it’s a pearl necklace. In the 2022 movie, it’s a yellow diamond necklace.) And Poirot immediately begins his investigation to find out who’s responsible for Linnet’s murder. Linnet won’t be the only person to die during this ill-fated trip.

The 2022 movie version of “Death on the Nile” takes some liberties with reality, because during this entire investigation, the ship’s officials aren’t shown getting involved in this murder investigation. And for the purpose of streamlining the story, there are less people who are investigated than there would be in real life, when anyone on the ship could be considered a person of interest, until proven otherwise. Conveniently, Linnet reserved the entire ship for herself and her entourage. But unrealistically, no one in the ship’s staff is questioned during this investigation.

The 2022 “Death on the Nile” eliminates, condenses or makes other changes to certain characters that were in the book and the 1978 movie. What hasn’t changed is that all of the suspects are people who knew Linnet. In addition to having more racial diversity, the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” has LGBTQ representation in a subplot that won’t be revealed here. It should come as no surprise that Poirot is the one who figures out certain people’s secrets.

In the book and in the 1978 movie, Marie Van Schuyler and Miss Bowers are American, but they are British in the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile.” The book and the 1978 movie both had a character that’s not in the 2022 movie: an outspoken Communist named Mr. Ferguson. In a divisive political climate, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers of the 2022 “Death on the Nile” wanted to avoid politics in this movie remake.

The 1978 movie and book had a character named physician Dr. Bessner (who was Austrian in the book and Swiss in the movie), but the Dr. Bessner character is not in the 2022 movie. The Dr. Windlesham character seems to be a substitute for the Dr. Bessner character, since Dr. Windlesham is the only one on the ship who can determine the cause of death and the estimated time of death. Meanwhile, the book has other characters that aren’t in either movie, such as attorney Jim Fanthorp, Italian archaeologist Guido Richetti and Marie’s cousin Cornelia Robson.

Branagh’s 2017 version of “Murder on the Orient Express” got some criticism for having a group of suspects that was too large and unwieldy. It might be why his 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” has a smaller ensemble cast that’s less likely to confuse or distract movie audiences, compared to a murder mystery with a larger group of suspects. Fans of Christie’s “Death on the Nile” novel shouldn’t be disappointed by these changes. Having a smaller ensemble cast than “Murder on the Orient Express” and the 1978 version of “Death on the Nile” gives the 2022 version of “Death on the Nile” more room to focus on the individual personalities of this intriguing group of suspects.

Viewers find out that Bouc, who is a friendly and open person, is in love with someone he wants to marry, but his paramour doesn’t have his mother Euphemia’s approval. Bouc is a self-admitted “mama’s boy” who desperately craves his mother’s approval and relies on her money for financial support, which she threatens to cut off if he marries the woman he loves. Euphemia is extremely bitter and cynical about love and marriage, because she repeatedly says that there’s no such thing as a happy marriage, and love usually ends in heartbreak.

Salome knows a thing or two about failed marriages, because when Poirot asks her about her personal life, she has this sassy reply: “I’ve had a handful of husbands. My husbands were a handful.” It eventually becomes obvious that uptight Poirot and free-spirited Salome have “opposites attract” feelings for each other. Whether or not it turns into a romance is hinted at in a “to be continued” manner. It’s another way that this movie shows Poirot as someone other than the rigid, enigmatic, asexual investigator that he’s presented as in the books and other movies about him.

As a movie that’s set mostly in Egypt, “Death on the Nile” has some visually stunning scenes of pyramids and the Nile River. The cinematography and production design are above-average for the most part, but sometimes the lighting is uneven or unflattering. For example, there are several interior scenes where the cast members’ faces look too shiny, as if they’re about to break out into a sweat. These are noticeable flaws that don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Viewers will find plenty of entertainment and thrills in “Death of the Nile,” although some of the characters aren’t fully developed. Linnet’s maid Louise often fades into the background. Linnet’s ex-fiancé Dr. Windlesham literally is a silent observer in the background for half of his screen time, until after Linnet’s murder when he suddenly becomes a talkative medical examiner.

Branagh authentically shows more emotional depth as Poirot, for the reasons stated earlier, which makes his performance in “Death on the Nile” much more interesting than in “Murder on the Orient Express.” Mackey handles her complex role well as Jackie, who is someone whom audiences can either pity or dislike, sometimes at the same time.

Gadot’s performance as Linnet is a little on the shallow side, while Hammer gives Simon a “plastic playboy” vibe of someone who’s accustomed to being the heartbreaker in a relationship. Are they believable as a couple who fell so passionately in love with each other that they got married within six weeks of meeting each other? Not really, but anyone who breaks off a marriage engagement to marry someone else within six weeks is someone who probably has self-centered tendencies. In that regard, Linnet and Simon are a superficial and vain couple that this story intended them to look like.

The rest of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. Some of the movie’s best lines are said by Salome, Euphemia and Marie: three strong-willed and outspoken women who, under different circumstances, might’ve had a great time together if they became friends. “Death on the Nile” has most of the main characters, including Poirot, rethinking perceptions of themselves and other people. It’s why this movie is more than a murder mystery. It’s also a thoughtful commentary on how death can change people’s life priorities.

20th Century Studios will release “Death on the Nile” in U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Belfast’ (2021), starring Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Jude Hill

November 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row: Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

“Belfast” (2021)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1969, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the dramatic film “Belfast” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and South Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A tight-knight family in Belfast has conflicting feelings about moving out of this Northern Ireland capital city, as Northern Ireland has become increasingly affected by violent conflicts between the Irish Republican Army movement and the United Kingdom government.

Culture Audience: “Belfast” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching bittersweet and nostalgic movies about families trying to survive in an area plagued by violent civil unrest.

Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

“Belfast” is more than a love letter to filmmaker Kenneth Branagh’s Northern Ireland hometown. It’s also a love letter to childhood memories that tend to put a rosy glow on some very grim realities. Branagh wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical dramatic film, which he says in the “Belfast” production notes is “the most personal film I have ever made. About a place and a people, I love.” Branagh is also one of the producers of the “Belfast,” which won the top prize (the People’s Choice Award) at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, after the movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival.

Taking place during the last half of 1969, “Belfast” (which was filmed entirely in black and white) is told from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy named Buddy (played by Jude Hill, in an impressive feature-film debut), who lives in Belfast and is a lot like many 9-year-old boys: He loves to play and has an active imagination. He’s very fond of adventure stories and watching sci-fi shows and Westerns on TV.

Buddy is a bright and curious child who is particularly fascinated with stories about heroes and villains. He often roleplays as a hero with a miniature sword and shield. And in one scene in the movie, Buddy is shown reading a “Thor” superhero comic book, which is an obvious nod to “Thor” fan Branagh ending up as the director of the 2011 movie “Thor” in real life.

Buddy has a loving, working-class family, which includes his teenage brother Will (played by Lewis McAskie); homemaker mother Ma (played by Caitríona Balfe); joiner father Pa (played by Jamie Dornan); and Pa’s parents Granny (played by Judi Dench) and Pop (played by Ciarán Hinds). The real names of Buddy’s parents and grandparents are not mentioned in the movie. Buddy also has assorted aunts, uncles and cousins who live in the area. The family members are Protestant and live in a mostly Protestant part of Belfast.

Buddy’s mother is the glue who holds the family together. She has a strong sense of morality that she tries to instill in her children. She’s the more serious parent, while Buddy’s father is the more “fun-loving” parent who has an irresponsible side to him. Will is a kind and protective brother to Buddy, but the two siblings naturally have their share of minor squabbles. Buddy’s grandfather has a playful and mischievous side, while Buddy’s grandmother has a no-nonsense nature.

In 1969, Belfast had neighborhoods that were segregated according to religion: Catholics lived in mostly Catholic neighborhoods, while Protestants and other non-Catholics lived in mostly Protestant neighborhoods. This type of religious segregation in Belfast and Northern Ireland still largely exists today. This segregation is directly related to the conflict between those who believe that Northern Ireland should be given back to the mostly Catholic nation of Ireland and those who believe that Northern Ireland should remain under the rule of the mostly Protestant nation of the United Kingdom.

It’s this conflict that was the basis of the Troubles, a historic period that took place mostly in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. The Troubles consisted of protests, riots and bombings in the disagreements over which government should be in control of Northern Ireland. It’s in this backdrop, when the Troubles began, that Buddy’s family must decide if they are going to remain in Northern Ireland or not.

Before the start of the Troubles, Buddy was leading a fairly idyllic life, where his biggest problem was trying to get the affections of his classmate Catherine (played by Olive Tennant), who is his not-so-secret crush. Buddy and Catherine are both outstanding students who are at the top of their class, so there’s a friendly rivalry that the two of them have with each other. Buddy would like to think that his intellect will impress Catherine, so it motivates him to do well in school. In his free time, Buddy likes to play outside, read, watch TV, and go to the cinema with his family.

This happy life bubble gets burst one day (August 15, 1969), when Buddy sees firsthand the violence erupting in the streets because of the political conflicts over Northern Ireland. While he’s playing outside, Buddy gets caught in the street where rioters are committing violence, including throwing Molotov cocktails. Buddy’s mother runs outside to rescue him and tells him to hide underneath the kitchen table.

It’s the end of Buddy and his family feeling completely safe in Belfast. Although they try to continue to lead their lives as normally as possible, the threat of violence and being harmed is always near and has become increasingly probable. Adding to the family’s stresses, Buddy’s father is heavily in debt, including owing back taxes, and the only work he can find is in England. And so, for about two weeks out of every month, Buddy’s father has to be away from home because of his job.

Buddy’s father is as attentive as he can be to his children, but he has another problem that is causing a huge strain on his marriage: He has a gambling habit, which obviously makes it harder for him to pay off his debts. Buddy’s parents try to hide these problems from the children, but the movie shows from a kid’s perspective how children eventually find out what causes their parents to argue.

Meanwhile, some local Belfast men, who are part of a group of violent protesters against the U.K. government, try to intimidate other people in the area to join their cause. Buddy’s father is one of the people who’s targeted for this recruitment. The gang’s leader is a menacing lout named Billy Clanton (played by Colin Morgan), who comes from a large family. Billy’s brother Fancy Clanton (played by Scott Gutteridge) and their friend McLaury (played by Conor MacNeil) are two Billy’s sidekicks who go with Billy to threaten people in the area.

When they approach Buddy’s father about becoming part of their group, they tell him that he has the choice of “cash or commitment”: In other words, if he doesn’t join, they expect to get extortion money from him. Buddy’s father tries to stall them for as long as possible about what decison he’ll make. But the thugs become impatient, and Buddy’s father knows that his time is running out. These threats, as well as his worries about his family’s safety (especially when he’s not in Belfast to protect them), make Buddy’s father more inclined to want to move out of the area as soon as possible.

“Belfast” isn’t all gloom and doom. There are moments of joy, such as when the family spends time together doing things that they like. For example, there’s a nice scene where the family watches the 1968 musical film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in a cinema. There’s also a cute moment when Buddy’s grandparents give him advice on how to charm Catherine. And the movie has some other levity, such as a recurring comedic scenario about the family’s minister (played by Turlough Convery), who seems more concerned about collecting money from the parishioners than in giving sincere sermons.

The mutual prejudices between Catholics and Protestants fueled the Troubles, but the movie pokes some fun at this religious bigotry. Buddy’s father comments in a scene: “I’ve got nothing against Catholics, but it’s a religion of fear.” The scene then cuts to the family’s minister giving a fear-based “fire and brimstone” type of sermon in church.

“Belfast” realistically shows how ambivalent a family can be in deciding whether or not to risk staying in a hometown that has become increasingly violent or leave behind family members, friends and other loved ones to start over in a new place where they might not know very many people. England is the most obvious place where Buddy’s father wants the family to move. However, at one point, Buddy’s father considers relocating the family to a U.K. commonwealth, such as Canada or Australia.

Buddy is not at all happy about the idea of moving out of Belfast. From his child’s point of view, moving away will ruin his life. Things become even more complicated when one of the grandparents ends up having a serious medical problem that requires an extended stay in a Belfast hospital. Meanwhile, Buddy’s parents become increasingly at odds with each other about if or when they should move out of Belfast.

What isn’t so realistic about “Belfast” is a pivotal scene in the movie that involves a showdown in the streets with Buddy’s father and Billy Clanton. There’s an action sequence during a riot that looks like a very “only in a movie” moment, including a slow-motion stunt shot. This scene can be excused if viewers take into account that it’s supposed to be from the memory of child who’s fascinated with hero/villain stories. However, it’s a scene that might have some viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief, even though this scene is supposed to be the most suspenseful part of the movie.

Some viewers might also have a hard time completely believing Balfe and Dornan in their roles as working-class, stressed-out parents. Balfe’s and Dornan’s performances are very good, but they look like very polished actors in roles that require them to look like life is getting rough for them. These parents are not supposed to look movie-star glamorous, which they do in a few too many scenes.

Nowhere is this “movie star glamour” more evident than in a scene where Buddy’s parents are out on a date in an attempt to rekindle some of the romance in their marriage. They’re at a dancehall, where Robert Knight’s 1967 hit song “Everlasting Love” begins playing. And suddenly, Buddy’s father gets in front of everyone and starts singing in perfect tune with perfect surround-sound audio (even though he has no microphone), like he’s the star of a concert. (Dornan does his own singing in obviously pre-recorded vocals.) And then, Buddy’s parents begin dancing and twirling as if they’re the 1969 Belfast equivalent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

It’s a musical number that’s a feel-good moment, but might be too corny for some viewers. This song-and-dance scene certainly doesn’t fit with the more realistic family scenes in the film. Perhaps this is Branagh’s way of showing how a child’s memories can be embellished to remember things as a heightened version of reality.

Because of this childlike point of view, “Belfast” doesn’t get too bogged down in politics. There are hints that the adults in Northern Ireland either identify more with being Irish or being British. The movie doesn’t take sides on any political issues because Buddy’s family is not a political family. However, the “Belfast” soundtrack consists mostly of songs from Northern Irish artists, particularly Van Morrison. Morrison’s songs on the “Belfast” soundtrack are “Down to Joy,” “Caledonia Swing,” “And the Healing Has Begun” “Carrickfergus,” “Jackie Wilson Said,” “Stranded,” “Warm Love” and “Days Like This.”

Despite some of the flaws in the “Belfast” screenplay, none of the actors gives a bad performance in this film. Dench and Hinds are excellent as usual, but they’ve played these types of characters many times before in other movies. Balfe has more emotionally charged scenes than Dornan does, but Dornan and Balfe both capably handle their roles as parents trying to hold their family together, even though their strained marriage threatens to break them apart.

As the character of Buddy, Hill is an absolute delight to watch. He gives a completely charming performance, with intelligence that isn’t too smart-alecky, and with authenticity that doesn’t try too hard to look convincing. It will be interesting to see what kind of career that Hill will have as an actor, because some precocious child actors burn out and leave showbiz, while others end up thriving and go on to bigger and better accomplishments as actors.

“Belfast” is neither too dark nor too light in its tone. And the movie’s black-and-white cinematography gives a classic-looking sheen to the film. Except for a few unrealistic moments, “Belfast” is an emotionally moving journey into the difficult decisions that a family can make in the name of love.

Focus Features will release “Belfast” in U.S. cinemas on November 12, 2021. The movie’s release date in the U.K. and Ireland is January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Artemis Fowl,’ starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Artemis Fowl”

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and a magical underground world, the fantasy adventure “Artemis Fowl” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black and Asian) who portray humans, fairies, dwarves and goblins.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl , who must save his kidnapped father from an evil fairy, kidnaps a good fairy as bait for the ransom, setting off a battle between fairies and humans.

Culture Audience: “Artemis Fowl” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Artemis Fowl” book series who won’t mind watching a movie adaptation that is inferior to the books’ storytelling.

Judi Dench in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The “Harry Potter” books and films have set the bar pretty high for what can be achieved in making young-adult fantasy novels into movies. By comparison, “Artemis Fowl” is a mediocre mess of a film that clearly spent a lot of time on visual effects but not enough time in doing justice to the kind of storytelling that author Eoin Colfer has in his “Artemis Fowl” books. Almost everything that happens in the “Artemis Fowl” movie can be predicted by people in their sleep.

The long-delayed “Artemis Fowl” movie was supposed to be released in theaters, but instead was released directly to the Disney+ streaming service, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s hit-and-miss artistically when it comes to his big-budget films), “Artemis Fowl” isn’t the worst fantasy film that someone can ever see, but it’s a disappointing movie, considering the level of talent involved. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the clunky “Artemis Fowl” screenplay, which is supposed to be an origin story, but the movie is highly unlikely to get a sequel.

The story takes place in Ireland, in an alternate modern reality where humans live above ground, while fairies and other creatures live in a below-ground place called Haven City. The movie begins with the news media in a frenzy because several priceless artifacts from around the world have been stolen. The chief suspect is a reclusive businessman/art dealer named Artemis Fowl Sr. (played by Colin Farrell), who lives in a mansion called Fowl Manor and who has mysteriously disappeared.

However, a suspected accomplice has been arrested: an oversized, thieving dwarf named Mulch Diggums (played by Josh Gad), who’s self-conscious over the fact that he’s much taller and bigger than the average dwarf. Mulch is taken to the MI6 Red Fort Interrogation Unit in Thames Estuary, London, where he begins to tell the story of Artemis Fowl Jr. (played by Ferdia Shaw), a precocious 12-year-old loner who’s frequently left to his own devices because his father goes away for long periods of time on secretive trips.

The Artemis Fowl father and son have a close relationship, but Artemis Jr. feels hurt and left out that his father won’t tell him where he’s going on these trips and exactly when he’ll be back. (Artemis Jr.’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.) Artemis Jr. has a friend/mentor/bodyguard named Domovoi Butler (played by Nonzo Anozie), who tells people that he hates to be called a butler. Domovoi has a relationship with Artemis Jr. that’s similar to the “Batman” story relationship between Alfred the butler and Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As Mulch tells it, Artemis Jr. doesn’t like school very much. He’s considered “different” and has found it difficult to make friends. There’s somewhat of an unnecessary scene where Artemis Jr. is talking to a school counselor, and then Artemis storms out because he thinks the counselor doesn’t understand him and the session is a waste of time.

Considering that Artemis Jr. spends the rest of the movie fighting battles like an adult, going to school isn’t a priority to him. It also didn’t make sense to show him at school in this movie because a kid like Artemis Fowl would probably be homeschooled, considering his father’s secretive and reclusive life. Why bother with nosy teachers and students?

At any rate, Artemis Jr. soon gets a phone call from the evil fairy who’s kidnapped his father. Let that sink in for a few seconds and try not to laugh at how dumb that plot sounds. We’ll have to assume they have caller ID blocking in Haven City.

The evil fairy tells Artemis Jr. that his father will be killed unless the fairy (an unnamed androgynous creature who’s in disguise with the creature’s face obscured) gets the ransom: a magical object called the Aculos, which has the power to open portals across the universe. The evil fairy tells Artemis Sr. that he’s been kidnapped as revenge for causing the deaths of some other fairies.

Artemis Jr. then comes up with a somewhat convoluted plan to get the good fairies of Haven City to help him find the Aculos. How? By kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short (played  by Lara McDonnell), an enforcement officer who’s supposed to be 84 years old in fairy years, but she looks close to the age of Artemis Jr. (All of the fairies are human-sized.)

The good fairies, led by gravel-voiced Commander Root (played by Judi Dench, in yet another no-nonsense, unsmiling role), then descend upon Fowl Manor to rescue Holly. The fairies have the magical power of creating a force field around a certain area, where everyone in the force field can be temporarily frozen and have their memories erased.

This power is demonstrated in a scene where a giant troll crashes a wedding reception in Italy and attempts to kidnap a child and the good fairies come to the rescue. It’s an example of how this unfocused movie literally jumps all over the place.

But apparently, having magical powers isn’t enough for the fairies, because they also have a massive technology center at Haven City, complete with huge video monitors and computers. How very Earth-like. Except it’s not, because their chief technology officer is a fairy centaur named Foaly (played by Nikesh Patel).

And who else has teamed up with Artemis Jr. and Domovoi to help them fight off this large army of fairies? Domovoi’s 12-year-old niece Juliet Butler (played by Tamara Smart), who’s got martial-arts combat skills. The three allies are outnumbered, but they have some tech gadgets and guns for their battles—although the guns don’t seem to actually kill anyone, because Disney can’t have a movie with 12-year-old kids on a murder spree.

Mulch’s narration comes and goes in the story, which includes a scene of Mulch in a prison cell full of goblins who are hostile to him. It’s an example of a poorly written scene that seems to have no purpose other than to show Mulch in an uncomfortable situation and the visual effects of when he uses his magical ability to over-expand his mouth.

All of the actors do a serviceable job in their roles, although McDonnell frequently outshines her co-stars in her scenes. There are a few lines that might give people a chuckle, such as when a gruff Commander Root barks to subordinates, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!” The way she slightly pauses before she says “four-leaf clover” makes it clear she could have said another “f” word, and then it would definitely not be a Disney movie,

The visual effects and production design of “Artemis Fowl” are good-enough, but they won’t be nominated for any major awards. Because there is so little character development in the movie, the action scenes are really what bring the most appeal to the film. Kids under the age of 10 might enjoy “Artemis Fowl,” but people with more discerning taste in fantasy films won’t find “Artemis Fowl” very impressive. “Artemis Fowl” might just make people want to watch an old “Harry Potter” movie instead.

Disney+ premiered “Artemis Fowl” on June 12, 2020.

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