The classic ‘whodunnit?’ is spit-n-polished for murder-mystery fans and the best news is that we have an entirely new and original story on our hands, which is not reliant on weary source materials. With the ghosts of Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock leering over director Rian Johnson’s shoulder, Knives Out adheres to classic and conventional sleuth stylings while bringing the genre into contemporary times.
True to the genre’s promise, the cast is a massive ensemble of players – including Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer – with each bringing quirky eccentricities and nuances of the kind expected from a film so enamoured with movies like Murder on the Orient Express, Clue and Gosford Park.
The Thrombeys are a wealthy and elite family whose fortune is built upon the success of their patriarch’s career as a mystery author. He is Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) and when his young carer finds him dead with his throat slit – on his 85th birthday – the scene is set for a fantastic mystery, with deliciously decadent twists, macabre revelations, and cheeky red herrings.
Craig plays a renowned private detective, Benoit Blanc, who assists the police in their investigation at the request of an unknown party. With an eagle eye for detail and a strong BS-detector, he picks apart the family members, one by one, and sets about piecing together the events of the past 24-hours. In true murder-mystery fashion, the story is intentionally derivative and exploits all of the tropes. The killer could be any one of the characters and only a rigorous and comical interrogation will reveal the culprit.
Knives Out is so much fun. Johnson’s original story is modelled after an assortment of influences and is brilliantly told with a modern theme of class privilege and social structures. Parables to the current world we live in are woven into the story with contemptuous glee, and he even takes the time to reference those merciless trolls who so ruthlessly got their own knives out following the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Johnson conceived the story many years ago with the intention of making it much earlier, and perhaps it is to our advantage that it took so long. The time feels right for such a classic brand of cinema, and with multiplexes being dominated by mega budget blockbusters, it’s refreshing to see such a frivolous and comparatively modest movie on the big screen.
Each and every performance is top-notch, with Plummer giving a particularly devilish turn as the authoritative head of the family. Curtis plays against type as the “self-made” daughter with an empire all her own and some moderately right-winged leanings. Don Johnson leans even further to the right and relishes every tasty morsel, while Shannon and Collette offer up wonderfully kooky bohemianisms.
The standout performances, however, come from Craig as the Poirot-like detective with a knack for observation, and Ana de Armas as the immigrant carer whose part in the proceedings is never quite assured. They chew up the dialogue as if it was all meat and no gristle, and their on-screen dynamic is hugely entertaining.
Knives Out is prudently structured, meticulously plotted and carefully hole-proofed. Johnson’s screenplay is fully rounded with every moment on screen serving a purpose. Moviegoers are advised to pay close attention to what’s happening at any given time, as the director strings his audience along like a maniacal puppet master. Agatha and Hitch would be proud!
In cinemas: November 28, 2019
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis
Directed by: Rian Johnson