Daniel Craig and his fellow ensemble stars are the highlight of the cleverly written ‘whodunnit’ from Rian Johnson, Knives Out.
When wealthy author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead on the night of his birthday, foul play is suspected. Enter private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been hired, anonymously, to find out who exactly done it. The suspects: Thrombey’s eccentric family members, who were all present on the night of his death, and who all potentially have a motive to see the family patriarch dead (talkin’ bout’ inheritance, of course).
The story in Knives Out is not one that’s very original, with the ensemble murder-mystery tale having been around for yonks in popular fiction since the days of Agatha Christie, and later on in film with the likes of Clue (1985), Gosford Park (2001) and the Murder on the Orient Express (1974 and 2017) films. What separates this film from the others is its quirky cast of characters and the performers that portray them, its humour and Johnson’s smart writing and directing style.
Knives Out features one of the more impressive ensembles in recent memory, which includes Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell alongside Craig and Plummer. Each actor brings with them their own unique take on their character, showcasing their eccentricities without a fault. It is Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas (who has a significant role in the film) that are the standouts, however, with each other supporting cast member doing their bit to keep the entertainment and intrigue flowing.
Rian Johnson’s direction to get the most out of these actors is equally impressive, and the spoken word in the film (of which Johnson also takes credit for) is intelligent and witty. The director has successfully put all the pieces of the puzzle together on the production side of the film, setting the stage for what should have been a murder-mystery film for the ages. So, was it? Well, it comes close but maybe just not close enough.
Johnson manages to keep us guessing throughout most of the film as more and more information is revealed about the family members and their relationship to the head of the family. Where Knives Out suffers intermittently is with its twists, and more specifically, its payoff. A film like this should have more than a few ‘wow’ moments that completely blindside the viewer. Sadly, Knives Out fails to deliver on that front. The narrative is crafted cleverly enough to keep you invested through the duration of the film, and you are kept wondering what major revelation is about to be divulged, but by the end of it, you may be left feeling a bit underwhelmed. It’s obvious Johnson put a lot of thought into the writing of this film but it still lacks any shock factor when it comes to the reveals.
Thankfully, that flaw is not enough to sully the entertainment value of the film, as all the other pieces work exceptionally well. Knives Out is funny and witty, with excellent performances and memorable characters; attributes which are strong enough to see most people enjoy this modern ‘whodunnit’ film.
Rian Johnson has described Daniel Craig’s character as an “American Poirot”. Given that, it is a bit of an irony that Craig himself isn’t American at all, but British.