“Knives Out” is a comedy/whodunnit directed by Rian Johnson. It boasts an impressive cast, led by Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, and also included Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer. It is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, based around the death of a family patriarch under suspicious circumstances.
What a cast! Daniel Craig leads the way as the private detective who has been called to what the police believe is a suicide, revealing that he does not know the identity of the person who hired him. Craig is great fun as a Poirot-like detective, managing to annoy all the members of this wealthy and privileged family with his probing questions. (One small hiccup with his performance – what IS that accent?) Otherwise he gives a great and eccentric performance following the clues to the finish. Ana De Amas plays Marta, a nurse hired to take care of the wealthy writer Harlan Thrombey. I do not remember having seen her before but she is fine in the role of the ‘ingenue’ of the piece. Thrombey himself is played by the great Christopher Plummer, and he was wonderful in this role, seemingly the most decent person surrounded by an extended family with their hands out. His actions, seen in flash-back, show a person capable of great integrity, and making the hard decisions. Plummer is very convincing in this role, as would be expected.
Jamie Lee Curtis plays Thrombey’s daughter, probably one of the few supporting cast who do not have any motive for murdering her father. She shines in a relatively small role, all sweetness and talking about how Marta is part of the family until circumstances change, whereupon so does her attitude, swiftly and nastily. Toni Collette is funny as pseudo-hippy Joni, who likes to live a peace and love lifestyle at Thrombey’s expense.
The men play in turn a philandering husband, a man whose only living seems to be managing his father’s business, and a younger waster who likes fast cars and drugs. These characters are all standard whodunnit tropes, but are all played with great conviction by Shannon, Johnson, and Evans. They are all in different ways very nice to Marta until it is no longer convenient to do so. Each of the actors show their nasty and threatening sides with great effect, in the case of Shannon, being a complete bastard in the politest way. Blackmail, anyone?
This film was directed by Rian Johnson. The only other film of his that I have seen is the 2012 production “Looper”. While I felt that movie was flawed, it’s direction was not the problem, and I can safely say here that Johnson directs “Knives Out” with a sense of fun as well as a good understanding of the genre he is portraying. As a comedic mystery it is excellent. Johnson’s homage to the ‘whodunnit’ genre (he also wrote the screenplay) indicates a superior understanding of what is required for this type of story.
Unfortunately I cannot say for sure whether it was hard to work out who the culprit was, because the internet spoiled this for me some time before I saw it. That being said, I was still left guessing on exactly how it was done, so it maintained that level of suspense for me. The twists and turns of the story move along at a good pace, and the solution and finale occur without any feeling that any loose ends have been left dangling. The comedy isn’t the belly laugh kind, more a subtle humour throughout that kept me smiling. Less subtle is the concept of a character so affected by lying that she becomes physically ill, which was revolting at times (though different, I’ll admit. Also I’m squeamish, so I could be biased.)
So, “Knives Out” is not meant to be taken seriously. This is not a thriller, not realistic. It’s a classic ‘whodunnit’ mystery, and as such, is a great deal of fun. I highly recommend it.