Film review: ‘KNIVES OUT’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

After a lumbering foray into the Star Wars franchise with The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson returns to what he does best, quirky character-based crime dramas in the flawed but highly enjoyable murder mystery Knives Out.

The film plays like an alternate reality Agatha Christie story as a group of suspects (played by a typical all-star cast) gather at a country estate murder scene to hear an eccentric yet brilliant detective regale them with his theories and revelations about the killing. The detective in this case is gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig with an outrageous Cajun accent) who’s called in to assist police when wealthy author, publishing magnate and the venerable patriarch of the Thrombey Clan, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found the morning after his 85th birthday with this throat slashed. While the local cops think it’s an open and shut case of suicide, Blanc suspects otherwise. Soon, each of Harlan’s conniving children: daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and son Walt (Michael Shannon) and their spouses and children played by Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Toni Collette, as well as Harlan’s dedicated nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) come under suspicion. As the story unfurls, a culprit seems clear but this twist-laden tale has a few surprises.

It’s a credit to writer/director Johnson that he’s been able to invigorate a very familiar and slightly creaky scenario to create such a sprightly film that works as drama, whodunit and social satire. Johnson appealingly infuses Knives Out with his unique brand of modern noir filmmaking via atmospheric cinematography, probing close-ups and a dark yet lurid colour palette. He also impresses in the way he integrates each component of this film – the visual style, dialogue and even the use of carefully placed household objects – to underscore plot points, themes and character.

While the cast members don’t necessarily receive as much screen time as we might like (particularly Toni Collette), each of these fine performers offers some delectable moments as they make Harlan’s blood-sucking children and in-laws wonderfully vile. Jamie Lee Curtis is particularly venomous as the superficially stable Linda who becomes a monster when her privileged lifestyle is threatened. Despite initially looking like a ludicrous choice to play a southern gentleman detective, Daniel Craig still projects his typical steely charisma and sly humour making Blanc an enjoyable oddball. Ana de Armas as Marta, the apparent beacon of morality in the murky sea of this corrupt family and the film’s nominal central character, is also terrific amid this cast of esteemed veterans.

While essentially a novel take on the whodunit, Knives Out briefly offers a reflection on Trump’s America as the family squabble about the border control and treat the wonderfully stoic and upstanding Latina nurse, Ana with condescension.

The finale of Knives Out may not be quite as inventive or shocking as we might have liked but the build-up, as we watch this carnivorous family claw at each other, is alot of fun.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Murder mystery/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Rian Johnson.

Release date: 28th Nov 2019.

Running time: 130 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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