Knives Out

A murder in the family?
Verdict: 
8/10 - Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is a delightfully playful take on the murder mystery genre.
Release Date: 
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Written by: 

Daniel Craig stars as a legendary private detective in Rian Johnson's murder mystery.

8

Rian Johnson may now be known for his work on the Star Wars franchise and his time-travelling thriller Looper, but he made his name in Hollywood with a more humble movie, his high school-set neo-noir detective story Brick.

Now, he's taken on a different style of mystery caper with the Agatha Christie-inspired Knives Out - a twisting mystery about the death of a hugely successful crime writer and his dysfunctional family.

After Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, having slit his throat after his 85th birthday party, the assumption is naturally that his death must be a suicide - no one is known to have gone in or out of his room since his young nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) left him for the night and went home.

The investigating police officers are ready to close the case after interviewing members of his family at Thrombey's Gothic home - there appears little motive - as almost all the family are, in various ways, dependent on him for their wealth.

These include his 'self-made' businesswoman daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her pompous husband Richard (Don Johnson), their feckless son Hugh, nicknamed Ransom (Chris Evans), as well as Walt (Michael Shannon), the son who runs the family publishing empire, and Harlan's lifestyle influencer daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette).

However, also present at the house is legendary private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been mysteriously hired to investigate possible foul play.

As you'd expect, with the aid of judicious questioning and a keen scent for lies and truth - he quickly uncovers some of the rifts and dirty secrets - but struggles to ascertain the mystery at the centre of the case - the how and why of Harlan's death - or the 'hole in the doughnut' as Craig describes it in a southern drawl. If it's a murder, it is one without method or motive.

 

As a mystery, Knives Out works not because its revelations are unfathomable and complicated before a big reveal, but because of how Johnson weaves his plot by actually divulging significant amounts of information that add layers to events.

It's not a traditional whodunnit, despite the amount of times the Thrombey family are gathered in what Lakeith Stanfield's detective describes as a 'Clue board' of a house.

Instead, it repeats the trick Johnson used in Brick of layering on new perspectives and kernels of truth until the picture becomes clearer - or not, if the latest layer is one that forces us to challenge our earlier assumptions and theories.

The all-star cast also delivers great performances, despite indulging in scenery-chewing exaggeration. Shannon and Collette perhaps give the two best, as fairly pathetic individuals who can keep up the pretence of success thanks to their family connections, although it's Craig's Blanc who gets the most satisfying moments and bizarre homespun one-liners.

De Armas is also excellent as Marta, a rare character who is not a caricature of the excesses of the American upper-class.

At times, the film does veer towards the cartoonish and absurd - and as an audience, we are fully aware that the characters are at the centre of an elaborately designed game rather than reality. But the acting and characters are such fun and Johnson's playful exploration of the rules of the genre mean Knives Out is a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

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