A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.
After directing a ‘Star Wars’ film in ‘The Last Jedi’, Rian Johnson has returned to smaller scale moviemaking with the excellent ‘Knives Out’, a modern take on a classic Agatha Christie style whodunnit. To say it’s small scale is a bit of a disservice, given this film features a spectacularly talented ensemble in the main parts and a $40m budget, but it certainly has the feel of Johnson being back in his comfort zone after the mixed reaction to his last film.
The premise of the film centres on the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plumber), a wealthy crime novelist who is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party. It appears to have been a suicide but private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is not convinced, not least because he was drawn to this case at the request of a mysterious client. Craig plays Blanc with a deep southern drawl and he’s clearly been crafted in part as a homage to the eccentric, genius detectives from the likes of Agatha Christie’s novels (Poirot in particular). He’s clearly having a ball and while it undoubtedly verges into caricature, I felt his portrayal worked tonally with the style that Rian Johnson has established. The film establishes all of the main players neatly, providing everyone with a motive to want Harlan dead and then Johnson sets out to pull the rug out from under your feet with an entertaining and inventive explanation.
The majority of the action takes place in Harlan’s gothic mansion and it’s a triumph of production and set design, enhancing everything that happens around it. Perhaps our main character is Harlan’s nurse (played by Ana de Armas), who being removed from the family squabbles, has a more balanced view of the situation and may herself have key insights into what actually happened. She is from South America (a running joke has the various members of the Thrombey family call her just about every potential nationality from the area), and her presence allows for Johnson to enter into some thematic commentary about the way the Thrombey family react to those outwith their circle. They may say she is one of them, but the way they act makes it clear that she isn’t, and this throws up some interesting dynamics as more and more plot is layered on. This is also a very funny film and I laughed on numerous occasions (the will sequence is great), and there’s a good balance between the playful elements of the script and the actual plotting, which is tight and clever without becoming too over the top.
‘Knives Out’ is a smart murder mystery that manages to be suspenseful and entertaining in its own right whilst also working as a send up of the murder mystery genre in general. It’s got a terrific cast, it’s superbly crafted and I thought this was a real crowd pleaser that should appeal to a wide range of cinemagoers.
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, Noah Segan, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz and Christopher Plummer