Knives Out (2019) directed by Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is one of those films that reminded me of the exquisite quality of modern acting, writing and editing. As a lover of old classics, usually bought second hand at charity shops, my viewing repertoire of late has been sorely limited to scratchy action flicks and cringe-worthy romances, and so it was a breath of fresh air to cuddle up with a coffee and a first-rate murder mystery that left me feeling that maybe there is hope for humanity.
The film is set in the present day in the shadow of a hulking gothic house in the Middle of Nowhere, New England, and begins with a party celebrating the 85th birthday of writer Harlan Thrombey, with his parasitic, over-achieving family in attendance. Through the eye of the camera we creep through the antiquated home as private dramas unfold, catching snippets of whispered conversations and muffled arguments played out with a masterful disregard for chronology until all the facts become twisted in on themselves and my mind was tying itself into knots, trying to figure out who to trust.
And then, disaster strikes – Thrombey senior is discovered dead the next morning, a suicide, or so it seems. Enter the man, the myth, the legend: Daniel Craig. As a Bond stan, I was originally sceptical as to how convinced I would be by his performance as the omnipotent detective, although I suppose it’s a short step from gentleman spy to gentleman sleuth. In any case, I shouldn’t have worried; the combination of southern drawl, piercing blue eyes, sheer charisma and almost comedic use of back-bending metaphors gave the character of Detective Blanc, “Benoit Blanc”, the perfect amount of mystery, while still maintaining our trust, as the one who shall root out the truth.
As well as Craig, the cast is littered with old favourites, including Don Johnson, the adulterous son, and Jamie Lee Curtis, his ice-cold wife, who present a subtly fractured front, bound only by habitual loyalty and pride. And up from the servants quarters rises Thrombey’s nurse, the young heroine (Ana de Arma) and her unlikely wingman (Chris Evans) an arrogant and self-serving man-about-town, who relishes in watching the Thrombey estate crumble.
As the case unravels, complete with arson, blackmail, embezzlement and of course, lashings of murder, we find ourselves confronted with a breadcrumb trail of old-school clues that give us just enough information to wet our appetite for more.
Written as a homage to the murder mystery queen Agatha Christie, this film does her justice, with its labyrinthine plot that races not through time, but between it, flicking back and forth from past to present, as the family cracks apart in their efforts to undo the actions of their murdered patriarch, whose untimely death reveals dark intentions that shed light on the reality of his dysfunctional, money-grabbing relatives. This movie was ultimately the story of the underdog, who through loyalty and kindness defeats the evil of family politics and the brutality of greed. Would I watch it again? Absolutely (and not just to see Chris Evans in handcuffs…).
– Alice Attwell
Featured Image Source: Still via Lionsgate Movies//YouTube. Director: Rian Johnson