Frost on Film: Knives Out

A Who-Dun-It for the Modern Age

It’s fair to say that Rian Johnson has not had the easiest last few years. Before December 2017 Johnson was no doubt in dreamland, having been given the opportunity to write and direct the latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. However, following its release an onslaught of polarising feedback permeated social media with many devoted fans hating his Star Wars creation.

Overcoming this highly negative atmosphere is not easy by any stretch, but Johnson has nonetheless remained (publicly) positive throughout it all and has capped off the whole saga with the release of a new, more personal feature called Knives Out. It is essentially a who-dun-it placed in the modern age, tracing the untimely death of millionaire Harlan Thrombey, played with predictable charm by Christopher Plummer. The character feels similar to J. Paul Getty, a previous millionaire mogul Plummer played in All the Money in the World, harbouring an underlying sense of importance and power – although Thrombey is a whole lot nicer than Getty was.

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With the circumstances around Thrombey’s murder remaining a mystery, local detectives arrive at the family house to interrogate the melee of family members who all seem to have something to hide. Admittedly, the officers are underdeveloped but this proves to be of little issue as the centrepiece of Knives Out is Benoit Blanc, the famous and brilliantly named detective called in to investigate the murder. Daniel Craig is perfect in the role of Blanc, managing to hold a believable Kentucky accent throughout the entire run time. He even manages to utter such delightful lines as: “I suspect foul play” with intrigue and allure that no doubt would have come across as corny in the hands of a lesser actor.

Jamie Lee Curtis (Linda Drysdale) and Michael Shannon (Walt Thrombey) add to the star power as two of Thrombey’s children, both vying for validation and success as a means of escaping the large shadow cast by their father. It is not surprising that Toni Collette is brilliant in what little part she has to play during the film but as Joni, Thrombey’s daughter-in-law, she surprises as a hippie skincare freak who wouldn’t be out of place in a cult. Arguably the most interesting character is Chris Evans’ Ransom Drysdale, a man-child who seems to hate everyone that shares his surname, snobbishly shouting at anyone who gets in his way.

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Yet perhaps the beating heart of Knives Out is Marta Cabrera, the caring nurse of Thrombey, played by a brilliant Ana de Armas. As Benoit Blanc interrogates and questions the family, he relies upon the insights of Marta which is a masterstroke decision by Johnson as it gives us a look into the family from an outside perspective. This adds both to the underlying sense of unnerve and insincerity underpinning the entire family.

Johnson, an aficionado of classic Agatha Christie who-dun-its, is no stranger to giving genres a fresh twist and with Knives Out he does not disappoint. The setting for most of the action is the large, almost gothic house Thrombey lived and died in, framing the cinematography like a classic murder mystery thriller. However, the old is mixed with the new as one certain grandson is accused of being a phone-obsessed Nazi while the family talks about immigration and border policies (a dig at American politics at the moment no doubt).

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While the setup is done well, the level of mystery is not always maintained throughout the run time. As we are introduced to different family members, we can quickly appreciate those who cannot be culpable as Johnson keeps the attention on certain individuals rather than the entire family. However, the pay off at the end is worth the wait as the plot takes it fair share of twists and turns, keeping you guessing throughout. Knives Out is admittedly a fun watch and puts Rian Johnson right back in the good books of many who thought he ruined Star Wars forever. His take on the who-dun-it is fresh, well written and most importantly exciting – it may not be revolutionary but it is undeniably fun.

Stefan Frost

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