REVIEW: Knives Out (London Film Festival 2019)
Opting for such a sharp, clinical title, you’d be forgiven in thinking Rian Johnson is looking to make an eagerly awaited cinematic ‘comeback’, to all the exhausting bordering on volatile discussions stirred up from his divisive efforts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Away from putting his own stamp on the ever-expanding world of an iconic franchise.
Knives Out is a masterfully constructed chamber piece built from the ground up, which is rooted in the clear adoration of the murder mystery with fiendish nods to Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie littered within its impeccable narrative structure. Its lavish interiors and grand influences may scream old school, but for those all too familiar with Johnson’s invigoration of noir with Brick and time-travel with Looper, this killer slice of entertainment hardly plays to convention.
Rather sprightly for an eighty-five-year-old man. Christopher Plummer plays the well-to-do victim Harlan Thrombey, whose real wealth clearly lies in his crime novel accomplishments and beloved mansion. Not in managing the frightful dysfunctionality of his bickering family. Chris Evans’ rebellious antics making him as much of an outsider as Ana De Armas’ foreign helping hand is made out to be, by this power-hungry family headed up by the steely gaze of Jamie Lee Curtis, whilst on the sidelines the fresher faces of Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell look to build their own legacies.
First declared as a tragic suicide. Daniel Craig’s wonderfully alliterate private detective Benoit Blanc and his spiky southern drawl suspects foul play, which seems a hard sell to his contrasting fellow investigators (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Seger). And yet he persists, as he looks to untangle what he considers a twisted web of deceit spun by the Thrombeys.
Knives Out moves through the gears with a side-splitting wit and fierce intelligence that is a pure joy to watch. Its plotting stacked yet concise in its tantalising reveals. Its characters dialled up yet truly recognisable in their personality traits. Johnson toes the line between paying homage to his own favourite crime solvers, whilst establishing the film with its own contemporary bite superbly. For all its playful mystery, it’s the stabs at politics and privilege within modern America that gift Johnson the freedom to play with expectations, which are bound to cut deep and hit some nerves with modern audiences.
It’s evident from the word go that its stellar ensemble is having a blast with the material. First Logan Lucky and now here, Daniel Craig is developing quite a knack for cutting loose away from his commitments to James Bond. His Benoit Blanc is a riot whose attempts at wisdom only perplex the suspects around him, possessing an outlandish nature that is befitting of those the film lovingly references, that will likely trigger calls for a series of films headed up by this gentlemen sleuth. Moving into the family, Toni Collette’s Joni is brilliantly bitchy whose liberal viewpoints inevitably cause rifts with the more conservative amongst her, along with Chris Evans, who chews up the scenery as the roguish Ransom. The real breakout here, particularly in her pitch-perfect comic timing, is Ana De Armas’ Marta, whose unique perspective away from the Thrombeys plays a pivotal part in conveying the film’s weightier ideas.
A truly wicked whodunnit. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is to die for.
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Cast: Toni Collette, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson