Review: Knives Out

This 2019 American murder mystery is written, produced, and directed by Rian Johnson. It stars an ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield and Christopher Plummer.

Following a family 85th birthday celebration for world-renowned author Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), the housekeeper arrives the next morning only to find him dead in his room in what looks like suicide. Detective Elliot (Stanfield) leads the investigation into his family, including eldest daughter Linda (Curtis), daughter-in-law Joni (Collette), son-in-law Richard (Johnson), grandson Ransom (Evans) and youngest son Walt (Shannon), each with their own private scandals. But a private detective has secretly been hired; Benoit Blanc (Craig), who suspects foul play. His attention turns to Harlan’s nurse Marta (de Armas) who he feels is the only one with nothing to gain from Harlan’s death. Blanc uses her to help navigate the Thrombey clan as the investigation begins…

The murder mystery is a wonderfully rare genre from cinemas, but it proves such an entertaining one to watch if done right. In both cinema screens with the Tim Curry led ‘Clue’ back in 1985, a spin on the Clue / Cluedo mystery board game, the Sean Connery led ‘The Name Of The Rose’ and dozens of adaptations from such works as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot with the most recent ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, and not forgetting classic TV shows as Murder, She Wrote and Columbo.

Yet, these are few and often far-between and either further adaptations, repeats or remakes. So with ‘Knives Out’, you have a totally original murder mystery that follows in the footsteps of those greats with a rich ensemble cast, minimal locations, devious motives, dark humour and the famous pay-off at the end when all is unravelled.

The cast is solid from the start and has been since production started featuring such young and old talent like Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Ana de Armas, Jaeden Martell, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Craig to name a few. All have their characters and roles down perfectly from what was on paper – the playboy, the widow, the maid, the detective, the outcast, the loner – they’re all there. Thankfully each gets a big part to play in one way or another, but not everyone may get as much screen time as you want for them. Then again, with so much talent to fit in just over 2hrs, not everyone will be happy.

But you’re in very good company and led by Craig himself as the “Kentucky Fried Chicken” accented private detective Benoit Blanc, who veers into self-thought more often than not and comes across like the best of all our detectives in these films. A pleasant person, friendly, warm at times, understanding, a little bemused, rambling about food and his hobbies but always with a sharp perception. Craig is obviously more than capable of leading the cast and the investigation even if his accent is a little hokey at times. Everyone is having fun here, and you will also in their shadow.

It’s Ana de Armas who is the crux of things with the story, and everyone and everything has been hinged around her fragile home-nurse, thrust into an almost nightmarish situation in a world she doesn’t fully understand with people she doesn’t fully get. de Armas is going from strength to strength in Hollywood following ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and ‘No Time To Die’, and with this sandwiched between the two she really delivers a heartfelt, touching and very real performance away from the more OTT cast around her dressed in their ‘Clue’ style reds, blues, browns and oranges.

While the main plot is practically unravelled under the hour mark, the majority of the film flits between whodunnit and thriller, with Blanc seeing motives and finer points to a case we already see as solved. It’s not the typical mystery where nothing is known until the end, but more so we know what happened early on and then it’s the other doughnut holes within those doughnut holes inside the doughnut that we never expected that we are looking for. It may work for most, but some may lose interest when things go off-piste into the crime thriller genre over the “whodunnit”. When it does veer off track, some of the set-ups and character motives make the outcome more obvious rather than a big surprise come the credits.

But, regardless of whether you wanted to know more or less about the mystery within, it’s an enjoyable ride for the pacey run time. The cast keeps you in good company, and you’re never going to really be bored with the snappy dialogue, dark humour and pockets of action that come our way as the danger increases. Also, the constant back-and-forward narrative that shows you how things were done, and should be done in some cases, is always entertaining to see when done well, and Johnson does just that in this genre he clearly has made a love letter to here.

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