Knives Out (review) – a glorious modern whodunit full of humour, wit, energy and charm

Knives Out premiered at the BFI London Film Festival on the 8th of October 2019.

Director Rian Johnson may have achieved what was unthinkable a few years ago by breathing life into the classic whodunit with Knives Out. While the whodunit has remained popular on TV and streaming services, many have wondered whether the genre would ever find its feet again on the big screen. While Kenneth Branagh’s assured Murder on the Orient Express gave us a hint of potential, it remained a remake. Knives Out may pay homage to Christie, P.D. James and Rendell, but it is also original, fresh, exciting and addictive viewing. It’s a whodunnit for the 21st century that is long overdue.

In a sprawling manor house outside Boston, the successful mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) lays dead in his room, his throat slit, with the knife beside his cold hand. Meanwhile, the guests who attended his 85th Birthday celebrations sleep in their rooms, unaware of his cold, still body.

As the sun rises, the family housekeeper, Fran (Edi Patterson), discovers the body, throwing the household into chaos. Harlen’s death looks like suicide, but many questions remain unanswered as the Thrombey family gathers. The dysfunctional family includes Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), a successful business leader with a less-than-honest husband, Richard (Don Johnson), and their wayward son Ransom (Chris Evans); Harlan’s Son Walt (Michael Shannon), the family publisher, and his Daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), a money sponge, plus a whole host of grandchildren and hangers-on. Each family member is indebted to and dependent on the wealth Harlan created; however, their lives, beliefs and secrets are about to be placed under the microscope by the famous private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who quickly smells a rat. But could Harlan’s carer Marta (Ana de Armas) hold the answer to the countless questions Blanc has?

Rian Johnson’s delicious screenplay shines in the hands of a truly sublime cast as he dovetails the classic whodunit with a cutting commentary on contemporary American politics. Humour, action, and mystery surround conversations on “Make America Great Again” politics and the corruption of family units built on inherited privilege. From Harlen’s Trump-loving and aloof grandson Jacob (Jaeden Martell) to the casual racism surrounding the family’s attitudes toward Marta, this family is built on lies. But the triumph of Knives Out sits in Daniel Craig’s hands as he shakes off his Bond persona and creates a detective who mixes elements of Poirot with Columbo, becoming an instant classic of the genre. Steve Yedlin’s cinematography bathes the film in autumnal colours, allowing the Thrombey house to become a character in its own right as it creeks and groans amidst the delightful family arguments and toxic politics. The result is a glorious whodunit for the modern era, filled with humour, wit, energy and charm that keeps you guessing until the end.

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Toni Collette, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Edi Patterson, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Riki Lindhome, Frank Oz

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