Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, LaKeith Stanfield
Runtime: 2h 10mins
many, the premise of Knives Out – Rian Johnson’s latest film, after his
explosively divisive The Last Jedi – elicits something of a soft groan. Who has the
energy for another Agatha Christie-like murder-mystery? Even those that make
drastic changes to time and place (like BBC's The Name of the Rose) can’t breathe new
life into the genre.
How, then, has Johnson managed to assemble a blockbuster cast
to make one of the most enticing, convoluted, and hilarious whodunnits in
Daniel Craig stars alongside LaKeith Stanfield as detectives assigned to the Thrombey case
despite the impressions given by the trailers and the tropey expectation of a
detective protagonist, Knives Out is not Daniel Craig’s movie. His character
Benoit Blanc, a private investigator, is a classically eccentric presence
wielding an affected southern US accent. But he's not the star of the show.
When Harlan Thrombey – the crime-writing patriarch of a very
wealthy, very white family – appears to have slit his own throat, Blanc is on
the case. The PI’s not even noticeable at first, unfocused in the background as
Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) questions members of the family.
Blanc eventually emerges, as all flamboyant and over-dramatic
detectives are wont to do, with a long and illustrious monologue explaining
everything. He suspects the suicide is really a murder, and that one or more
members of the family are responsible.
Ana de Armas (left), playing Marta, is the real star of the show
far, so usual – that is, until Blanc meets Harlan’s former nurse, Marta. Not
only is she the most likeable character under that ludicrously opulent roof,
but she has the most (in)convenient condition for a murder-mystery: she throws
up whenever she lies.
Johnson astutely twists the film to follow her and only her,
relegating 007 to a secondary character. It’s such a delightful shift in the
story and, although there are many surprises along the way, this swerve is the
most shocking. Ana de Armas, playing Marta, carries the film well, gelling with
Johnson’s perfect tonal balance of silly comedy and argumentative drama.
Johnson can also get darkly satirical, playing on the
prejudices held by these over-privileged people, especially with regards to
Marta's heritage. Each member of the family states a different country of
origin (Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru, etc), so certain that they're right. Although Knives Out is pure escapism (Trump is never mentioned), Johnson
plays on some very real American fears.
There are a few too many characters, often only appearing to deliver their one funny joke;
but every character and every joke bursts with idiosyncratic hilarity.
The Thrombey family
Collette continues to be eclectic in her role choices, revelling in her role here as a whining
spiritual guru. Former scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is a breadwinning
business owner. Michael Shannon plays the underwhelming son Walt, who’s in
charge of Harlan’s publishing company. Chris Evans, in his second role since
saying farewell to The Avengers, causes anarchy as the disgraced son Ransom.
And Christopher Plummer suits the deceased Harlan perfectly, not long after his
similar patriarchal role as John Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World. That’s not even the
It is, of course, far too much; but Rian Johnson ensures
maximum convolution with only a light sprinkling of confusion, often for comic
effect. Knives Out is a homage
to murder-mysteries, but not a parody; it's dramatic while never flattening the
comedy; it’s complicated without being impenetrable. Johnson makes the genre fun again.
Reviewed at the 2019 London Film Festival. Knives Out is released in UK cinemas on 29 November
|What||Knives Out review|
29 Nov 19 – 29 Nov 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
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