Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer. Directed by: Rian Johnson.
We all need to unwind. Work is stressful, after all, but how are you expected to wind down when the last movie you made was the biggest movie of that year, and polarised an entire fanbase in the process? You go old school and do your own thing.
Knives Out is a throwback whodunnit, in which acclaimed mystery author Harlan Thrombey is found with his throat slit, and despite it being ruled as a suicide, as his family gather together various secrets start to come out, and private investigator Benoit Blanc is called upon to unravel the story.
Having gone through the lengthy process of bringing a Star Wars movie to the screen in The Last Jedi, and then dealing with the hate that followed, Rian Johnson here crafts a smaller affair but with some pretty big ideas. Johnson is playing Agatha Christie, using a locked room mystery set in a country estate. Laying his cards out perfectly, it’s clear that the director is wanting to do something different; he flips the genre of a whodunnit like he did previously with Brick and turns in one of the most fun films of the year.
Much like last year’s Bad Times at the El Royale, Knives Out is a throwback movie, though it is very much set in the present day. It carries an impressive cast, and an intriguing central mystery which drives the film forward. Just to be clear, the cast is an absolute powerhouse: here we have Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Katharine Langford AND Frank Oz, to name just the familiar faces.
Johnson isn’t just setting up an enigma though, he has much bigger things on his plate. The film is pointedly set in the present day, and as such has some timely things to say. Most notably, stand out Ana de Armas is a South American caregiver to Plummer’s Harlan, and despite everyone saying she’s “like family” no one knows which country she comes from.
There’s also pointed jabs at the characters’ politics; Johnson’s Richard is called a “red cap” by hippie guru Collette, while Langford is chastised as a SJW and moreover, Jaeden Martell is an internet troll as one point called “an actual nazi”.
Craig has never been better, or funnier, having unwound and found his comedic groove with Logan Lucky, here he excels as gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, his voice all southern drawl and old-time manner, as he flips coins, lurks in corners and wears the best tweed suit ever. Alongside him is the also excellent Ana de Armas, so moving in Blade Runner 2049 she builds on that promise as Marta, a person who is referred to as having a good heart. Those two mark out the leads of the film, and both carry it as they have a budding friendship.
Yet, with a cast this big there is an inevitable under-use of certain people and it does feel like there is some stuff left on a cutting room floor. Martell’s internet troll, the kind who hates Porgs and thinks The Last Jedi killed Star Wars, is hinted at but never really shown, and considering “everyone has a motive” you never really know what his is. Plus, the all-star guest list, used so that no one can be discounted, seems like a waste of some talented people.
Plummer however plays his role perfectly, not the frail old man his family believe but instead a vibrant and happy-go-lucky type who has banter with his caregiver whom he comes to trust.
Inevitably there is a lot to unpack towards the end as twist piles on twist, but even as it does there is no denying that the film has fun with it, and Johnson’s dialogue is a ripe as anything – characters rip into one another with venom and both actors and director relish it.
Unlike most other thriller movies, this one wrong-foots you every single step of the way, making you think one thing but then showing you something new, and by the end, you’ll want another go on the ride. It’s witty, smart and a thoroughly good time. Some say they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but then Johnson just did.