In one of the few instances I can think of, I went to this movie knowing nothing about it except that Liam Neeson was the star. I literally had heard nothing about it and it was only a passing listing on a theater web page that brought me to the movie. The trailer above I had never seen before writing this post, after seeing the film. When I posted it, there were 195,750 views, which does not shout out “Success!” or “Box Office!” in today’s social media environment. That was OK because it is Winter and Liam Neeson is in a movie, so someone is going to do some killing. I am an admitted fan. I somehow missed his last two action films, “The Ice Road” and The Marksman”, but I usually queue up immediately for one of these Winter Action Thrillers. This time I must admit I was disappointed.

This movie is so conventional, it feels like a Netflix retread of an eighties conspiracy film, not a seventies one, which would probably be worthwhile, but more like something drained of inventiveness but slick enough to look interesting for a few minutes. It turns out it never gets as interesting as you hoped it would be. The plot is so simple as to be a trope in and of itself, a government agency is killing citizens it thinks are a risk to the country. This time it is not the C.I.A. or the N.S.A. of some made up intelligence group, it’s the F.B.I. and they have their own rogue operatives. It turns out Neeson’s Travis Block isn’t in on the program, he’s not actually an agent. He works off the books, backing up agents who are in deep cover and need assistance. It’s not clear if the whistle blower agent is his partner, which does not make much sense since Travis is not an agent, or if he is just a close friend. Either way, should he be stopped or praised for coming forward with his story?

No one should be advocating the assassination of someone you disagree with, but the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plot device is probably going to amuse some people and outrage others. The idea that what she is doing is actually accomplishing something in the movie is silly, and whoever thought getting rid of her was a good idea is an idiot. Which brings us to the first of the two stupidest characters I have seen in a movie in a while. Aidan Quinn is the F.B.I. Director without a ounce of common sense. If you see this movie, see if you can pick out the three times he screws up in his decision making. There is one plot point where he almost goes BOO! and then runs away from the complication. It is the laziest writing I have watched in a theatrical movie in a long time. This could be one of those Bruce Willis Video films that requires no sophistication at all.

The “journalist” in this film is even more stupid. She seems to have no idea that you need evidence, sources and additional corroboration to make a charge in a news publication. Her editor seems to understand that, but he is even more stupid by publishing her work without verification under his own by-line. The truth is, this may unfortunately reflect the state of modern journalism, we are a long way from Woodward and Bernstein. 

There is a personal story about Travis having OCD and paranoia, so much so that it drives his daughter away from him and creates a potential problem with his granddaughter. You would think that the threat to the family would be a major element of the film, giving Neeson license to unleash his well known special skills. That turns out to mostly be a red herring. He does not go after the bad guys so much as he runs away from them and outwits them a couple of times. Mostly this is an excuse for chases, none of which are very good, although the idea of a garbage truck being used as a vehicle for local destruction is fun. 

I did not hate this film, I simply did not respect it and there are soo many better Neeson Action films, why waste your time? 

Death on the Nile (2022)

So the reboot of Agatha Christie stories by Kenneth Branagh continues with this elegant film that is being released almost two years later than planned.  Murder on the Orient Express was reasonably successful adult mystery film a couple of years ago, so a follow-up seemed likely.  The character of Hercule Poirot is a natural for a film series and the detective does not disappoint in this entry. 

The film opens with a flashback scene that shows us young Poirot in WWI, already observant of the details surrounding him. Although we also get an origin story of his mustache,  it’s really about his detective skills and the sadness that will follow him the rest of his career.  It is certainly not relevant the story but it adds character to our lead and makes the main story more interesting. This is one of the things that marks this as an improvement on the previous film, all the characters are going to be introduced slowly enough for us to have a sense of what is going on and who is who. The fact that they are not on the Nile in the first fifteen minutes does not detract from the story but rather adds to it.

The cast is elaborate and international, and they are all reasonably good. Gal Godot looks great but the scenes she appears in during the trailer had me worried about her performance. As it turns out, the over the top delivery in those clips is not typical and she is really much more solid. These films seem to have a curse on them to some degree, because one of the lead actors has gotten into a public relations nightmare. Johnny Depp is still trying to crawl out of the hole that lead many to boycott seeing him in “Murder”, Armie Hammer now takes a turn at being the public figure with a dark cloud hanging over him and bringing it to the theater with him. His character is the most cliched in the film, so that undermines a little bit of the suspense. His best moments are a dance sequence with Emma Mackey who plays the fiancé that his character ditches for Godot. Their erotic dance suggests a relationship that is pretty powerful and may leave some suspense on the table as a result.

Frankly, the main attraction here is the look of the film. As elegant as “Murder” was, this doubles down on that. Once we get to Egypt, we have fantastic vistas, a romantic river (filled with crocodiles) and a boat to die for. The ship that the whole cast ends up on may be a CGI invention is some shots, but it is carried off well, and the actual sets that are the staterooms, dining room and main hall of the boat are all decorated lavishly with period colors, art work and deco designs. The clothes and the food will make you wish that you were taking the trip with this crew of suspects.

The main weakness of the film is the convoluted process by which the murders are carried out. It follows the same design as the 1978 version, so I assume that Christie is responsible for those plot points since they are identical for the most part. When we get to the solution, it feels a little bit like one of the three endings of the comedy “Clue” , where there is a lot of running around, actions that rush by, and the detective taking it all for granted that he has it correct. The side plot of the blues singer and her niece is a little spliced in, but it ends up working anyway.

All in all it is a very entertaining film and one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinematography you are likely to see this year. The score from Christopher Gunning is lush and evocative, and I thought it was superior in fitting the film than the work that was done in the 2017 “Murder”. This is an adult film with a little mystery, a lot of drama and some great scenery. Why wouldn’t you have a good time?