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Did Armie Hammer’s Scandal Sink ‘Death on the Nile’?

A recap of the accusations against Armie Hammer and his fall from grace — and whether that might have killed a star-studded mystery’s box office

Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, center, in 'Death on the Nile.'

Rob Youngson/2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

The star-studded Death on the Nile premiered this past weekend, distributed by 20th Century Studios (i.e. Disney), headlined by Gal Gadot and helmed by freshly minted Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh. A lavish adaptation of Agatha Christie’s beloved 1937 novel, and a sequel to Branagh’s prior Christie effort Murder on the Orient Express (2017), it’s got glitz, glamour, mystery, murder and lots of CGI vistas of Egyptian pyramids. It also features a prominent leading man, although you wouldn’t know it from the movie’s theatrical trailers, or TV commercials, or print advertising, or the press tour that its cast and crew have been on for weeks. Minimized at every opportunity during the project’s pre-release hype, he’s akin to a ghost hiding in plain sight.

That luminary, of course, is Armie Hammer, and his invisibility is far from accidental. Because as most have now heard, the 35-year-old star of The Social Network, The Lone Ranger and Call Me By Your Name has been accused by multiple women of predatory rape, assault and emotional abuse. That, and he’s been denounced for having fantasies about wanting to suck the blood from, and eat pieces of, his paramours. According to his alleged victims, Hammer is a wannabe cannibal.

In light of those as-yet-unproven charges, it might be easy to blame Hammer’s participation for Death on the Nile’s severely underwhelming $12.7 million opening-weekend box-office. To be fair, Disney’s game of publicity peekaboo with Hammer means that moviegoers may have been unaware he was in it, and factors such as COVID-19, adult dramas’ generally poor theatrical showing in recent years, and the Super Bowl all undoubtedly helped suppress its financial fortunes. Nonetheless, that haul is far below Murder on the Orient Express (which opened to $28.6 million), and it’s difficult to ignore the fact that Hammer has been a black mark on the entire undertaking —  and that Disney knew he would be, thus compelling them to deliberately obscure him as best they could.

Certainly, many on social media haven’t forgotten the mess that Hammer has made for himself, nor have they missed Disney’s PR shenanigans:

Such negativity is also the reason that, over the past twelve months, the industry has shunned Hammer at near-lightning speed. Originally scheduled to star in the Jennifer Lopez rom-com Shotgun Wedding, Paramount Plus’ making-of-The-Godfather mini-series The Offer, Starz’ Julia Roberts-Sean Penn series Gaslit, Amma Asante’s Cold War thriller Billion Dollar Spy and Broadway’s The Minutes, he’ll instead be seen in none of them, either because he actively backed away, or was not-so-quietly terminated, from those endeavors. He’s been dropped by his management and his publicist, and he’s all but absent from the public eye. In no uncertain terms, he’s presently persona non grata.

Career-decimating scandals are nothing novel in Hollywood these days; just ask Kevin Spacey. And like that disgraced Oscar winner, whose part in Ridley Scott’s 2017 drama All the Money in the World was famously recast post-production with Christopher Plummer (who went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for his last-second supporting role), Hammer has reportedly had his performance in Taika Waititi’s upcoming soccer comedy Next Goal Wins redone by Will Arnett. That tack, however, wasn’t available to Branagh with Death on the Nile, and anyone who sees the film will instantly comprehend why. As Simon Doyle, a high-society hunk aboard an Egyptian steamer whose passengers also include his wealthy new wife Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gadot) and legendary inspector Hercule Poirot (Branagh), Hammer’s character is the nominal catalyst for the narrative’s ensuing homicidal whodunnit. He’s also, as a result, its de facto main male suspect — meaning editing him out, and using digital trickery to insert another actor in his place, would be a logistical nightmare, if not an outright impossibility.

Considering his literal and figurative standing in this twisty-turny Christie narrative, Hammer was destined to remain, and that alone made Death on the Nile a tricky sell. Yet compounding matters is his actual part: a shady Lothario with a shiny, sunburnt complexion and a sketchy mustache to match who leaves his fiancé Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) for Linnet, much to the former’s obsessive dismay. Introduced erotically bumping and grinding on the dance floor with Jacqueline, he’s the embodiment of dangerous and untrustworthy male sex, and his two-timing quickly incites jealousy, hurt and murderous rage in his spurned lover. Conniving, suspicious and potentially violent, he’s proof positive of Poirot’s early pronouncement, “Ah, love…it is not safe.” Amidst Hammer’s ongoing real-world troubles, Simon is not quite how anyone wants to see the actor at the moment.

One can only imagine the hand-wringing and sleepless nights suffered by Disney executives over this turn of events. Consequently, it’s understandable that the studio wanted to conceal him during their marketing blitz in a manner similar to the way in which Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story downplayed its own wracked-by-controversy star, Ansel Elgort. Still, even by typically salacious Hollywood standards, Hammer is a special case, if only because the accusations against him are so wild and heinous as to seem borderline-unbelievable — and also because the fact that everyone has treated him like the plague invariably suggests there might be some actual fire (if not an outright conflagration) at the end of this smoke trail.

The complaints against Hammer began in January 2021, when the Instagram page @houseofeffie shared a collection of messages that were supposedly from Hammer’s account (dated between 2016 and 2020) in which he expressed various perverse fantasies. One read, “I am 100% a cannibal. I want to eat you. Fuck. That’s scary to admit. I’ve never admitted that before.” In another, he stated, “I need to eat your entire body.” A third went, “I need to touch every part of you, inside and out. I want to bite pieces off of you.” Countless others were in a similar vein, and though they haven’t been authenticated as belonging to Hammer, they immediately ignited a media firestorm, replete with additional women coming out of the woodwork to point a damning finger at Hammer for his domineering conduct. Most sensational of all was an interview given by his ex Courtney Vucekovich, who told Page Six, “He said to me he wants to break my rib and barbecue and eat it.” Former flame Paige Lorenze subsequently revealed that Hammer had carved an “A” into her pubic area, and that, “He was telling me you can remove the bottom ribs so he could smoke them, cook them and eat them. He kept saying, ‘You don’t need them.’”

Hammer’s ongoing contentious divorce and custody battle with wife Elizabeth Chambers only further fanned the flames. Unsurprisingly, the internet (including a fast-food chain!) had a field day with such outrageousness, transforming Hammer’s apparent cannibalistic urges into fodder for meme-tastic humor.

Upon departing Shotgun Wedding, Hammer hit back at this public indictment: “I’m not responding to these bullshit claims but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for four months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic.” His lawyer did likewise, releasing a statement that read, “These assertions about Mr. Hammer are patently untrue. Any interactions with this person, or any partner of his, were completely consensual in that they were fully discussed, agreed upon, and mutually participatory. The stories being perpetuated in the media are a misguided attempt to present a one-sided narrative with the goal of tarnishing Mr. Hammer’s reputation, and communications from the individuals involved prove that.” The denials, however, weren’t enough to stem the tide, leading to the cancellation of much of his upcoming work slate — especially once his prime accuser, named Effie, came forward to charge him with rape, thereby instigating an LAPD investigation.

In response to this personal and professional catastrophe, Hammer retreated to a rehab facility for treatment for apparent sex, drug and alcohol issues, completing his program in December 2021. That technically freed him up to stump for Death on the Nile. aided by news that the Los Angeles district attorney doesn’t seem apt to press charges against the actor for rape. But Disney clearly didn’t, ahem, bite. Meanwhile, if contemporary Hollywood history is any indication, hope for imminent redemption is dim: Kevin Spacey continues to be a pariah courtesy of past sexual misconduct; Johnny Depp has been at least temporarily evicted from the A-list thanks to his ugly split from Amber Heard; and Mel Gibson — despite making substantial in-roads to redeem himself after his own misogynistic and anti-Semitic brouhahas — is still unlikely to ever fully rebound.

All of which is to say, Death on the Nile may not solely be a casualty of its marquee star’s scandal. But its fizzling box-office debut reconfirms that, with regards to the actor’s career, the hammer appears to have dropped.

From Rolling Stone US