Tuesday 10 March 2020

Knives Out (2019)

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a hugely entertaining murder mystery that actually doesn't bother too much to keep things mysterious. Johnson seems to expect viewers to be one or two steps ahead, allowing them to get extra pleasure from many of the incidental details along the way.

It all starts with the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). This death is investigated by a detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Everyone seems to have a motive, and the fact that the death seems like an obvious suicide makes the whole investigation a rather strange affair. While the family bicker over what could be revealed in the will, Harlan's nurse (Marta, played by Ana de Armas) finds herself caught up in a lot of drama that she'd really rather do without. Monsieur Blanc views her as a valuable resource, however, due to the fact that she has a condition that makes it incapable for her to tell a lie without having to immediately vomit.

A whodunnit that quickly turns into a howdunnit, I cannot think of a major mainstream release that I enjoyed as much as Knives Out when I saw it in the cinema last year. Although not perfect, and murder mystery purists may be irritated by some of the decisions made by Johnson, it's a dream mix of a quality cast having fun with a smart and playful script. And everything is overlaid by Johnson making directorial decisions that help it all to retain the sheen of classic cinema while never distracting from the dialogue, the mix of characters, and the interplay between everyone.

With the likes of Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette playing members of the Thrombey family, you can rest assured that there are some great performances, but the real surprises come from those you might not expect greatness from. Craig, as much as I tend to enjoy him onscreen (especially as Bond), looks like he's having the most fun he's had in years, accent and all, and it's infectious, particularly while he is being supported by LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan. De Armas is so good in her role that this is surely her gateway to many more opportunities (I assumed she wouldn't be around much after Knock Knock, but her turns in both Blade Runner 2049 and this show that she is making some canny career choices). Chris Evans is a dick, and I love him for so happily sliding into that kind of role after so much time being decidedly non-dickish in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially when he's so good at that mix of charm and irritating arrogance.

Nobody puts a foot wrong, from the big stars to those who may only have one or two lines, and it's hard not to think that Johnson brought out the best in everyone with his plan to deliver something that manages to feel both fresh and traditional at the same time. From the opening scenes to the standard "assemble the suspects as the killer is about to be revealed" finale, this is pure Agatha Christie fare, through and through. It just has some more swearing, and a bit of vomit. You shouldn't let either of those things put you off.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

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