Rian Johnson twists the knife (Knives Out review)

Rian Johnson is one of the hottest filmmakers of recent years. His take on Star Wars with ‘The Last Jedi’ utterly divided critics and fans, as he proved he could do something different with the seemingly formulaic nature of the franchise. With his new film Knives Out, he again proves a master of subversion, this time taking on the murder mystery genre.

Written and Directed by Johnson, Knives Out tells the story of a wealthy crime writer whose sudden suicide seems to be tainted with foul play. In traditional circumstances, his large family all gather at his country estate with a detective to figure out what’s been going on. Soon enough, however, it becomes clear that this won’t be your average Agatha Christie romp.

As is to be expected from this genre, the cast is an all-star who’s who of famous faces. Leading the troupe is Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc, and his warm southern accent couldn’t be further from his work on Bond. It’s impressive that someone who plays that iconic a role could shed away the layers to become a new original character, but Craig has done that, and provides a lot of entertainment throughout the movie. Craig is backed up by Lakeith Stanfield, a rising star seen last year in Sorry To Bother You, and previously in Straight Outta Compton and Get Out. Christopher Plummer also stars as the murdered Harlan Thrombey, and his warmth and humour in the part is brilliant (unsurprisingly).

AND THEN there’s the rest of them. The huge amount of stars then includes Chris Evans as Harlan’s obnoxious grandson; Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Toni Collette as Harlan’s two children and daughter-in-law; Don Johnson as Harlan’s son-in-law; Katherine Langford as Harlan’s granddaughter; and Ana de Armas as Harlan’s nurse. It must be said that despite a huge amount of competition from her talented co-stars, de Armas – who can be seen in Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming 25th Bond film- is utterly sublime and steals the show.

The film begins as is to be expected, with the rounding up of the key players for questioning, but very soon the twists and cogs begin to reveal themselves, and BOY it is a joy to watch. The script is tight and zippy, with brilliant pace and fantastic humour. At its heart, the film is a mystery thriller, but it’s also a delicious black comedy. Put it this way, Agatha Christie would never have allowed vomit gags or character’s telling people to “eat sh!t” to distract from her carefully crafted stories, and yet in this film it absolutely works. The film is tonally perfect, and that is a credit to Rian Johnson and his masterful writing and direction.

Of course, every director is backed up by a marvellous team, and here the work is clear to see. The cinematography from long-time collaborator Steve Yedlin is a masterclass in visual storytelling, with carefully plotted camera moves creating the feeling of a smooth game of Cluedo. The camera remains mounted for the entirety of the film, except for a single use of handheld camera which truly helps unsettle the mood as events unravel. His cinematography is aided by a phenomenal wardrobe and art department. The colour, the detail, and the knitwear on show in the film all help create a timeless tone that reminisces about the genre’s longstanding roots while maintaining freshness and modernisation.

A great score by cousin Nathan Johnson, and clean editing by Bob Ducsay complete the film, and ensure that this is a murder mystery film worthy of every Christmas Day sofa. Deliriously good fun, modern and punchy with hilarious wit and intriguing twists, it demonstrates that Rian Johnson can handle a cast and a story like very few can. Bravo Johnson, Bravo.

5 stars 5

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