★★★★★ - STUFF
- Knives Out: The murder mystery that's also one of the best movies of 2019 -
Before Rian Johnson travelled to a galaxy far far away, he crafted two of the best detectives stories of the 21st century.
2006 debut Brick was a brilliant, bravura and breathtakingly ingenious movie set in a teenage world of jocks, junkies and just plain nasty individuals, while 2012's Looper's slow-burning, surprise-filled, mind-bending time-travel tale stayed with you for days.
So perhaps it's no surprise to see the now 45-year-old American, after the polarising reception to The Last Jedi, return to more mysterious fare. The shock comes from just how brilliant Knives Out truly is.
It's a week after the death of Harlan Thornby (Christopher Plummer) and his family are gathering at his Massachusetts mansion for his memorial service. The author of best-selling hits like The Menagerie Tragedy Trilogy and A Kill For All Seasons, the 85-year-old had sold more than 80 million books in 30 languages, thus acquiring a rather large fortune.
While upset at the loss of their patriarch, real estate mogul daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), publishing heir Walt (Michael Shannon) and lifestyle guru Joni (Toni Collette) seem more concerned about ensuring their needs continue to be taken care of, than the reasons for his demise. All evidence pointed to suicide and yet local law enforcement are back for another round of questioning.
Although the police probing is hardly incisive, the two original detectives have been joined by another man. Perturbed at this interlopers' presence, the interviewees are alarmed to discover he's none other than "the last of the gentleman sleuths" Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Describing himself as "a passive observer of the truth", he lets slip that he's there at the behest of an unnamed client. Somebody suspects foul play.
To say anymore would be to spoil Johnson's superbly scripted, magnificently edited whodunnit. This is a tale filled with red herrings, weak alibis, domestic squabbles, colourful characters and terrific twists.
Johnson employs misdirection in the best sense of the word, setting up motives for virtually everyone and seemingly handing the audience a plausible explanation early, only to snatch it away more than once. It's also funny as hell. Knives Out features a "bad detective", a "lousy murderer" and the "worst car chase of all time", as well as a terrific running gag about South and Central American geography.
But while the expertly assembled ensemble, which also includes Chris "Captain America" Evans, Don "Miami Vice" Johnson and Frank "The Muppets" Oz, are all perfectly cast, two actors steal the show. First, there's Cuban actress Ana de Amras (Blade Runner 2049's Joi) fabulous turn as Harlan's nurse Marta. Then there's Craig's drawling detective. Making full use of his piercing blue-eyed stare and quiet menace, the British actor once again demonstrates his non-Bond versatility. As with his winning performance in Logan Lucky, Craig looks like he's having a ball delivering monologues about "donut holes" and describing will readings as "less like a gameshow" and more like "a country theatre production of a tax return".
Throw an atmospheric classical soundtrack from Johnson's regular collaborator (and cousin) Nathan Johnson and a setting that's almost as much a character as the human protagonists and the result is a timeless classic that also feels like a brilliant commentary on contemporary America.
Knives Out is a film for lovers of murder mysteries, fans of dysfunctional family dramedies and everyone who just loves great movies.
- James Croot, STUFF
Knives Out is now playing at Light House Cinema!