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Knives Out - Review

Knives Out

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

RIAN Johnson is a masterful writer-director and his latest, Knives Out, provides plenty of evidence to support this.

An homage to the classic whodunit crime writing of Agatha Christie, this also subverts expectation at every opportunity, drops in some wry social commentary and allows a star-studded ensemble cast to revel in the type of role they’re not usually associated with. In short, Knives Out is a sharp romp of a film that delights from first frame to last.

The plot is disarmingly simple. A renowned sleuth named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously hired to attend the New England mansion of world-famous crime writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), whose 85th birthday party ended with his apparent suicide.

Convinced there has been foul play, Blanc spends the next few days in the company of his family, observing and questioning all present to try and establish a suspect from amid the myriad of motives.

Among those under suspicion are eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband Richard (Don Johnson) who has been having an affair he doesn’t want revealed and spoilt grandson Ransom (Chris Evans), whose life of privilege could be about to be cut off.

Also in the frame are needy son Walt (Michael Shannon) whose plans for his father’s business are constantly ignored, widowed lifestyle guru Joni (Toni Collette), who has been swindling money from the Thrombey purse, and Harlan’s nurse and carer Marta (Ana de Armas), who could have her own reasons for ending his life.

As with all good whodunits, Johnson’s screenplay is full of red herrings, surprise revelations and varying interpretations of the truth. But what also sets it apart from genre stereotype is the way that he subverts some of those expectations to wrong-foot the viewer even more.

Hence, while you may suspect certain things, the reasoning behind them might not be as obvious as it seems. And this only makes the eventual reveals more satisfying.

Johnson, of course, has form for toying with – and sometimes downright tearing up – expectation. Most famously, he provoked the wrath of Star Wars fans by daring to subvert elements of The Last Jedi and, thereby, turning in one of the best films in the franchise [contrary to the protests of some petty-minded individuals who couldn’t anticipate his moves].

Knives Out

Prior to that, however, he made a name for himself by doing the exact same things: taking well known genre tropes and mixing them up. Brick offered a Raymond Chandler style thriller set in a high school, while Looper took time-travelling sci-fi thrills and added extra emotional depth by virtue of its complex psychological discussions. Even The Brothers Bloom tinkered with the con-man genre in its own distinct way.

As with all of those films, though, Knives Out weaves a richly intriguing storyline around equally absorbing characters, giving every actor plenty to do and thereby rewarding the audience with plenty to think about into the bargain.

Craig is on brilliant form as the laidback, Columbo-esque sleuth, employing a heavy Deep South accent and a shuffling ability to find the truth (thereby subverting his better known 007 persona), while the likes of Evans (lapping up the spoilt brat elements to Captain America reversing effect), de Armas (good natured to a fault), Shannon (more insecure and less calculated than normal) and Johnson (dropping the suave charisma for Trump-style ‘patriotism’/chauvinism] are all on excellent form.

And talking of Trump, Johnson [the writer-director] can’t help giving his screenplay added social and political context, with issues of immigration, tolerance and wealth also to the fore for those paying wider attention.

Knives Out is the type of film that delights as it goes along but actually seems to get better the more you think about it afterwards. It’s a creative tour-de-force that finds everyone bringing their A-game, right down to the way in which it gleefully predicts some of the potential criticisms thrown at it and pokes fun at those elements along the way.

For any true fans of this kind of filmmaking, it would be criminal to miss out on seeing it at the earliest opportunity.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK Release Date: November 29, 2019

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