Knives Out

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Rian Johnson

Starring

Ana de Armas Chris Evans Daniel Craig

Anticipation.

This looks like an absolute hoot. Though there hasn’t been a decent whodunit in a while.

Enjoyment.

Could this be the shortest, fastest 130-minute film ever made?

In Retrospect.

Please get going on the continuing adventures of Cajun super sleuth Benoit Blanc.

Rian Johnson does his best Agatha Christie impression in this riotous, star-packed homage to the classic whodunnit.

There is a second hand book shop on London’s Charring Cross Road and adjacent to its front door is a shelf – some might call it a shrine – dedicated to the work of crime writing doyenne, Agatha Christie. There are, we assume, shrines just like this in shops and homes across the entire globe. Your hand moves in one direction, and before it reaches one of the many, early and vintage editions, it darts off in another. Where to begin with this gigantic and gigantically influential literary corpus?

You could always take the fun option of going to see Rian Johnson’s sparkling fifth directorial feature, Knives Out, which is that rare beast: an exacting, affectionate homage that also delivers thrills, spills and meaty subtext in its own right. On the docket we have a big old Gothic stack with a bunch of secret doors, an obscene cash inheritance, a bitterly feuding and snobbishly entitled family (Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Toni Colette) and their wily but empathetic Latino maid (Ana de Armas).

And then there’s the harsh but fair patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a world-famous crime writer who lords over everyone with his imposing baritone, whose judgement is final and whose throat is cut with an ornamental dagger. His merry pranks play out from beyond the grave as the bereaved relatives claw mercilessly for that massive, unearned financial windfall.

In the background, and very much maintaining a tab on all the minute machinations and obscure motives, is Daniel Craig ’s crackerjack private detective Benoit Blanc, whose velvety Louisiana drawl affirms both his outsider status and the film’s firm commitment to ironic tomfoolery. To explore even the most superficial of plot details would be futile, as this is a tale rooted in deep and solid contextual foundations, where every character has their own intricate backstory which serves to detain them in the spotlight of guilt for longer than they want to be there.

But Johnson is not content to reheat and re-serve the same old hoary genre clichés played at an arch remove. Instead he opts to shift the whodunnit goalposts at every opportunity, so at the point you think you know where all this is headed, you really don’t. Knives Out is less interested in the insta-gratification of collaring the culprit than it is airing out a lot of dirty laundry.

The plot whips along at such a pace you can feel the wind in your face, but it is also so tight that you never feel the need to even once glance back. There are small digressions in the film which ally it with the political now, such as a veiled argument about Trump and the fact that one of the younger offspring is an alt-right troll.

Yet de Armas’ kindly Marta finds herself at the centre of all this murderous squabbling – an immigrant whose tireless work ethic and righteous moral roadmap is only noticed by the one man who isn’t around to protect her.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that the Thrombey clan are all a little one note, and they are all singularly driven by their forthright political and economic identities, and thus a little too predictable for comfort. Still, Johnson just keeps on pushing until a breathless finale is then capped off with a closing shot which adds a delicious final twist of the knife.

Published 27 Nov 2019

Tags: Ana de Armas Chris Evans Christopher Plummer Daniel Craig Don Johnson Jamie Lee Curtis Lakeith Stanfield Michael Shannon Rian Johnson Toni Collette

Anticipation.

This looks like an absolute hoot. Though there hasn’t been a decent whodunit in a while.

Enjoyment.

Could this be the shortest, fastest 130-minute film ever made?

In Retrospect.

Please get going on the continuing adventures of Cajun super sleuth Benoit Blanc.

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