Knives Out, 2019.
Directed by Rian Johnson.
Starring Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindholme
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.
Right from the get-go, Knives Out knows exactly what it is; a modern ‘whodunnit’ influenced by the likes of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, director Rian Johnson expertly delivers a modern societal commentary masquerading as a murder mystery for the audience to unravel as the secrets lying dormant in the Thombrey home begin to unfold. But while the suspects all begin to incriminate themselves, the audience is slowly introduced to Daniel Craig’s idiosyncratic detective. Throughout, Craig reminds us that he can do so much more than just Bond, oozing charisma while uncovering the mystery.
It seems as if the Bond and Logan Lucky star had as much fun creating Benoit Blanc as the audience does watching him. His southern drawl is instantly disarming since we automatically expect to hear his sharp British quips that have become standard during his time as 007. Just from that alone, it’s obvious that Rian Johnson wants audiences to expect something a little more unusually over-the-top, while never devolving into silliness.
As the southern detective begins interviewing the family one by one with Lakeith Stanfield’s Lieutenant Elliot and Noah Segan’s Trooper Wagner, their conflicting stories and unique worldview slowly reveals Rian Johnson’s true intention with Knives Out; it’s a carefully precise commentary on America, immigrants and the alt-right. The topic never overwhelms the plot, but simmers just below the surface. From Jaeden Martell (IT) as Michael Shannon’s ‘Nazi schoolboy’ son using social media to stoke up his extreme political views, to the family’s hypocrisy over loving Ana De Armas’ nurse Marta – but notable disdain of immigrants coming into the country.
This mixed bag of conservatives, liberals and alt-right elitists constantly gaslight Marta, some belittling her as the ‘help’, while others claim to love and appreciate how she looks after Harlan. That’s largely since it suits them, but after a dramatic dynamic shift at the mid-point – their ugly self-serving personalities begin to crawl out from beneath their polite exteriors. There’s something to be said about how the family’s respective views on racism, immigrants and politics align with how guilty they may or may not be – although perhaps not for the murder at hand…
Ana De Armas is wonderfully charming as the nurse-come-confidant for Christopher Plummer’s Harlan Thrombey before his untimely demise. The friendship between the two feels genuinely endearing, and as the audience largely follows Marta through the web of family drama it’s clear that she’s a sheep among wolves. The strange partnership that evolves between Marta and Benoit Blanc is fascinating to watch develop as the pair discover more about the fateful night of Harlan’s death. Watching them wander through the Thrombey mansion and its sprawling grounds in an attempt to pull the pieces together is undeniably brilliant for reasons we won’t quite get into here.
Once Chris Evans’ black sheep of the family enters the fray to throw a spanner in the works, it’s hard not to be sucked in to the cynically hilarious whirlpool he creates around himself. He bounces off each member of the cast with colourful flair, clearly relishing in a role that allows him to be simultaneously despicable, charming and captivating. He undoubtedly has some of the best lines scattered across the film; “What is this, CSI: KFC?” from the first trailer lands perfectly. Jamie Lee Curtis’ self-made matriarch proves to be viciously fierce and thrives in excellent scenes of infighting between the family. Of course, these insult-laden bickering matches provide a lengthy list of suspects. And as the tag-line says; hell, any of them could have done it.
For those worried about violence and gore, fear not. The 15 rating here in the UK is solely for the colourful swearing littered throughout the film. It’s not particularly violent aside from a single moment in the murder, but it’s not a blood-soaked thriller whatsoever. Although that’s not to say it doesn’t have bite… Rian Johnson masterfully ramps up the tension to keep audiences on their toes. This is all accompanied by a glorious score from his frequent collaborator, Nathan Johnson. From soaring strings over sweeping shots of the mansion to pulse-racing intensity during flashbacks and car chases – it’s a wonderfully cinematic soundtrack.
The script is undoubtedly razor-sharp with twists and turns at every corner and while the ultimate resolution does feel slightly over complicated for the sake of an extra twist or two, it’s a truly entertaining two hours. The way Rian Johnson leaves this eclectic bunch of characters is pitch-perfect, from setting up minor sub-plots in clues earlier on – to simple visual cues, Knives Out sticks the landing with ease. It’s pretty much a game of Clue (or Cluedo, for us Brits) brought to life onscreen, and the characters themselves even make fun of the situation – which is why this self-aware but darkly comic whodunnit is so entertaining.
While touching at times, this neatly wrapped tale about immigrants, upper class entitlement and Trumpian politics flawlessly refreshes the murder-mystery genre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★