Knives Out

KNIVES OUT. Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Tony Collette, and Christopher Plummer. Directed by Rian Johnson. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 130 min.

This American mystery thriller is directed, written and co-produced by Rian Johnson who directed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017).

The film has an ensemble cast and details a master detective’s investigation of the death of a family patriarch who was Head of a deeply dysfunctional family. Several classic mystery thrillers have inspired the film, including novels written by famed, crime-writer, Agatha Christie.

In the film, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy crime-novelist, asks his extended family to come together at a remote mansion to celebrate his 85th. birthday. The day after his birthday party, however, he is found dead in his study with his throat slit.

Experienced and debonair detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called in, a little mysteriously, to investigate Harlan’s death, and everyone in the family becomes a murder suspect. In Blanc’s own words: “I suspect foul play (and) have eliminated no suspects”.

Everyone in the house, including non-family members, has some motivation to hide. Harlan’s grandson (Chris Evans) is a spoiled playboy, who coverts Harlan’s wealth. Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) is Harlan’s nurse, and has had a relationship with him which many in the family resent. Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), Harlan’s eldest daughter, eyes his money for her real estate company which is in deep financial trouble, and daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) has been defrauding Harlan for years.

Nearly everyone in the house has a reason for wanting Harlan dead. All the family members are fiercely combative with each other, and interact together very unhealthily. Benoit Blanc’s gives himself the task of sifting through self-serving lies to uncover who wielded the fatal knife. The movie emphasises family members’ arrogance, and viewers are never allowed to forget that it is members’ prejudices and selfishness that have led them astray. The Harlans are a family, whose privilege is under threat.

The film is a treat from start to finish. It is plotted cleverly, and offers a wonderful spoof of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novels, such as “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934), and “Death on the Nile” (1937). It satirises old mystery thrillers with ingenious twists and turns, and provides its own special twists to sustain a level of tension that holds throughout. While not reinventing the genre, it parodies it smartly and with flair. The last five minutes of the film are sheer plot-narrative magic, where everyone gets his or her just desserts, including a would-be murderer.

The ensemble cast provides genuine star-power with stand-out performances by Daniel Craig, as the film’s entertaining, resident sleuth, and Ana de Armas as Harlan’s trusted nurse, who always  beats Harlan at the games he plays with her.

Rian Johnson clearly loves the genre he is spoofing, and puts his own stamp on it as Director. He constantly introduces narrative plot elements that run counter to expectation, but he is helped by a talented cast, which comes into its own, especially when interrogated by an opinionated sleuth.

This is a stylish whodunnit that satirises crime thrillers cleverly, and manages to offer wry comment on modern American politics on the side. It supplies comment, with observations to match, on wealth, entitlement, privilege, social standing and greed, as well as illegal immigration.

This movie is hugely entertaining, and not to be missed for an excellent, escapist night out. It  keeps the viewer guessing until the very end. Typically, one learns to plug holes in the plot, only to realise they can’t be plugged in that way at all. The film is a worthy tribute to the genius of Agatha Christie.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting 

StudioCanal Pty Ltd

Released November 28, 2019