Rating4.5 / 5
Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans
28 November 2019
Rian Johnson crafts a tightly wound, endlessly entertaining modernisation of a classic mystery formula.
Knives Out is a tirelessly entertaining murder mystery that moves so quickly its wheels would come off if it ever slowed down. Thankfully, it doesn’t. This film is ripe with momentum, which it uses with skill and efficiency to weave through an ingenious plot. It’s a classic whodunit. Someone is dead. Everyone is a suspect. But this mystery has been modernised into something halfway between homage and reinvention, and with its deliberate production design it seems to take place in the past and present simultaneously. It’s really quite extraordinary.
We’re in New England in one of those enormous country mansions we’re sure is haunted. It belongs to Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), an old successful crime novelist who is found dead in his lofty study one morning, his throat slit open. One by one, we’re introduced to his crowded family as they’re brought in for questioning, like pieces in a game of Cluedo.
Tucked in the corner of all these interviews is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private investigator who, according to another character, speaks like Colonel Sanders crossed with Foghorn Leghorn. He’s not wrong. Blanc has been hired by someone unknown to uncover the truth and, like any good sleuth, seems to know more than he lets on.
The movie is strengthened by a stunning ensemble cast that includes Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langford, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jaeden Martell and Lakeith Stanfield, whose lead detective is thankfully more competent than Chief Inspector Japp and Inspector Lestrade combined. How all these gifted actors fit into the plot I will not say, but I was delighted to find room in some of their performances for little surprises. Almost all their characters are related to Harlan and are customarily given motives for his murder, but of course not all of them can be the killer. Or can they? Part of the fun is in attempting to find out.
At the end of the day, I can’t discuss Knives Out too much without divulging information crucial to the success of the plot. All I can do is commend the sheer force of power with which writer/director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi) has crafted it. His movie is just plain fun. His screenplay is careful in setting the board and moving the pieces; every line uttered, every action committed, no matter how trivial, will come full circle to play a part in the eventual reveal.
It’s also comforting to know he hasn’t relied on the star power of his cast for success; he has coached his cast into elevating an already successful story. Knives Out has the confidence of a fine Agatha Christie novel, but what sets it apart is that every now and again it stops to wink at the camera. And when we think we’ve gotten a firm grasp on who the killer is, it has the generosity to surprise us a little more. This is undoubtedly one of the year’s best.
Images courtesy of StudioCanal