Knives Out

Posted: December 15, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer.

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When world famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) dies shortly after his 85th birthday, it seems a straightforward case of suicide, but then why has an anonymous patron hired renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) to solve his murder? When Blanc begins his investigation it soon becomes clear that many of Thrombey’s family had motives for wanting him dead, including daughter Linda(Curtis) along with her husband Richard (Johnson) and playboy son Ransom (Evans), but Thrombey’s son Walt (Shannon) also had reason to want the old man dead, as did Thrombey’s widowed daughter in law Joni (Collette).

Blanc has his work cut out, and co-opts Thrombey’s nurse Marta (de Armas) to be his Watson, given she has a medical condition that means she throws up if she tells a lie.

As time passes and the mystery deepens, Blanc has to accept that he may not be able to bring Thrombey’s killer to justice.

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So, after The Last Jedi Rian Johnson comes down to earth with a modern spin on the whodunnit working from an idea he first had back after he made Brick, initially he planned to make it as an independent film after Looper in 2012 but Disney came a calling so it had to wait. At first glance this could be perceived as a by the numbers mystery, but an incredibly sharp and meticulously plotted script, and a top drawer cast, each of whom seems to be having the time of their lives, turn it into something quite special.

Knives Out is, at times, very funny, but it would be a mistake to treat it as a comedy, this is a serious film, albeit one with satirical edge. Johnson’s script is snarky and fine tooled to within an inch of its life and, at least on first viewing, everything hangs together perfectly, if not entirely satisfactorily, although that’s often the case with a whodunnit. It’s clear Johnson has used decades worth of Agatha Christie and numerous other inspirations, yet he still manages to create something a little different. There’s more than a hint of Columbo in here as well, and whilst I have no way of knowing it for sure, there’s more than a flavour of Jonathan Creek, yet this is also a Benoit Blanc mystery, and one hopes the first of many.

As polished as the script is, the film wouldn’t be half as good without a top cast, and the ensemble Johnson has pulled together is exceptional.

As, technically the lead Daniel Craig seems to be having fun playing slightly against type. Sure when we first see him, and before he opens his mouth, it could clearly be 007 sitting there, but then he does open his gob and we get that accent. Blanc is a laid back southern gentleman, a detective who doesn’t so much deduce, as shake the tree and waits for the solution to a mystery to fall from the skies. It says a lot about Craig that he creates such an engaging sleuth without the need for any tics or affectations, well aside from that accent of course!

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I said Daniel Craig was technically the lead, because in reality the beating heart of the film is Ana de Armas’ Magda, she’s the one the entire film revolves around, and in a film where everyone else is turning it up to eleven, her grounded, nuanced portrayal of a woman who finds herself in deep water is ultimately what makes the whole dame film tick. I’ve liked her since Blade Runner 2049 and I think she’s got a heck of a career ahead of her and I’m looking forward to seeing her opposite Craig again in No Time To Die next year.

Much like Craig, Chris Evans is having fun playing against type. After years playing everyone’s favourite boy scout, Captain America, he too has a blast as smirking, foul mouthed playboy, Ransom.

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As Ransom’s parents Curtis and Don Johnson are great, even if at times you struggle to believe Ransom is their son. As Walt, Shannon plays slightly against type but again is very good, and Toni Collete is always a joy and never more so here as the hippyish Joni. There’s a thematic holdover from The Last Jedi here, which is that rich people are awful, it’s almost a shame they’re so much fun while they’re being awful! Almost.

And special mention for Christopher Plummer, an actor still capable of turning in a fantastic performance, and for saying he’s dead when the film starts, he’s in it more than you might expect.

Knives Out is a film that’s a little too clever at times—or thinks it is—and whilst I give it kudos for misdirecting me, because I didn’t guess what had actually happened, the final reveal seemed a little flat given everything that had gone before, but like I say this is often the case in mysteries, the same way a horror can lose you at the last when the monster is finally revealed. This doesn’t distract from the fact that Rian Johnson is a talented writer and director, and that he and his cast have produced a hugely enjoyable film that’s a little bit different from the pack, only time and repeat viewings will tell if its anywhere near as enjoyable once you know the solution, but for now I’d be more than happy to see Benoit Blanc return!

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