Writer and Director: Rian Johnson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
With the shoot now closed on what is almost certainly his final Bond film, it’s time for Daniel Craig to set out his acting stall and remind the industry what he’s capable of. Actors often do this with theatre, a chance to change the way they are perceived by taking on a new kind of character that helps them to avoid future typecasting. Craig’s relaunch is Rian Johnson’s brilliant new murder mystery Knives Out which had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival and is a chance for Craig to reveal the comedy skills no one has ever fully appreciated.
Crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is found in his study with his throat slit the night after a crucial family party. Ruled a suicide, the strange circumstances of the murder and its perpetrator are revealed to the audience almost immediately, but someone is protecting them from discovery. As police and renowned private detective Benoit Blanc question the suspects, doubt is cast on every aspect of the crime. With the murderer desperate to protect their identity and a significant family inheritance at stake, who really dunnit?
Johnson’s hilarious comedy murder mystery is a credit to a genre whose characteristics Knives Out so skilfully makes it own. Everything crime fans are looking for is included – a small cast of dubious suspects with lashings of motive, a dark and isolated country house, plot points that play with time and circumstantial evidence that all points in one direction. Johnson plays homage to the tone of Jonathan Lynn’s Clue, the intrigue of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park and adds touches of Murder She Wrote which blend together into a marvellous new creation that may smack of Colombo while audiences wait for the detective to play catch-up, but creates plenty of narrative drive and engrossing tension as surprising events unfold to shake-up what we think we already know.
The style is just right, combining all the mystery elements with a black humour that results in plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are a result of Craig’s wonderfully deadpan performance that is one of the highlights of Knives Out. Adopting a surprising Southern accent that leads to at least two KFC jibes, Craig’s arrogant PI, who refers to himself in the third person, has nods to Poirot as well as references to Sherlock Holmes but with a modern knowing tone that adds a touch of his famously smooth super spy.
The stellar surrounding cast are equally delightful, particularly Ana de Armas as “good-hearted” nurse Marta – the only one who seems to really miss the dead novelist and becomes Blanc’s unofficial sidekick. Jamie Lee Curtis as business-woman Linda, Christopher Plummer as the twinkly writer, Chris Evans as bad boy grandson and Toni Collette as new age Joni give hugely entertaining performances with plenty of juicy characterisation as larger-than-life family members desperate for money who work well together as a dysfunctional group.
Some of the smaller roles naturally get lost in the background but Johnson’s film is as sharp as a blade and deftly managed. By taking all the much-loved aspects of the genre, Johnson weaves them together in a wholly satisfying two-hour black comedy. Most importantly Knives Out is dead funny.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October