23rd Jan2020

‘Knives Out’ VOD Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan | Written and Directed by Rian Johnson

knives-out-poster

An 85-year-old author is found dead in his attic study, an apparent suicide. Perhaps, something is not what it seems. Perhaps little is as it seems. Perhaps I need to swirl a brandy while dressed in a smoking jacket.

I have very happy memories watching the classic Agatha Christie murder mysteries featuring Miss Marple or.  the terribly clever but equally conceited Poirot assembling a cadre of rich toffs in the accusing parlour so he can unveil which among them is the killer, as a piece of dinner theatre. Et voila! My dear Jenkins.

Knives Out gives us a (sort of) modern take on the genre that lovingly explores the existing troupes and plays with them in interesting ways. Our setting is a gothic New England pile and modern technology features in the plot, but traditional sensibilities remain intact.

The film is superbly made and superbly acted. Rian Johnson keeps a firm eye on the various plot threads and layers, so the film is extremely approachable and clear, despite the many twists and turns that such a murder mystery is likely to take. The film has an all-star ensemble cast and I cannot remember Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis or (even) Toni Collette being much better.

Daniel Craig is our egotistical “Benoit Blanc” a private investigator brought into an apparent suicide case by an unknown employer. Craig’s piercing blue eyes and sense of the ridiculous make an excellent pulp, Victorian sleuth. His coin tossing, piano key mashing, cigar smoking aplomb is going to take us through the stories and red herrings of the various, monstrous family members of the deceased writer. A room full of monstrously selfish, upper class parasites that all have reasons for resenting dear old Papa. The gravy train is departing Sunday lunch square, perhaps one of the family was desperate enough to do something about it?

Part of the beauty of the film is how subtle details are different in each flashback given by our highly unreliable narrators. At the author’s 85th birthday, for example, whoever is telling the story is at the Patriarch’s elbow as he cuts his cake.

Knives Out plays with interesting social morays, both old and new. There is the “only character to be trusted”, the “help” who, superbly, is from a different Central American state depending on which member of the family is telling the story. She is “dearly loved, as a member of the family” and yet not one of them can quite agree where it was she came from. There is superficial lip service to “melting pot” America, while the undercurrent of Trump-era politics bubbling up as tensions rise. Indeed, Don Johnson plays a Trumpesque son in law to sneering perfection.

In terms of the negative, there is only one criticism I have, and that is that one of our characters is immediately forced to vomit if they say something untruthful. This film is not Waynes World – it is too good to have to rely on this humour. Though it did get a laugh from the middle-aged, middle class audience I saw the film with.

As a piece of stand-alone cinema Knives Out works superbly, however I am very interested to see Benoit Blanc in other adventures (perhaps set in Bruges or Marrakesh). These days we are so used to having sequels, prequels and remakes of anything vaguely successful it seems odd for me to be asking for more of something for once, but yes please.

Knives Out comes to VOD on February 7th 2020.

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