Director: Rian Johnson | Cert: 12A | Runtime: 2h 10m
After less than impressive feedback from the audiences of his Star Wars movie, Rian Johnson decided to scale back. Gone was intergalactic warfare in a galaxy far-far-away, and in its place is a battle to discover a killer in an ambitious but utterly enthralling murder-mystery.
What becomes quickly apparent is Knives Out harkens back to the age of the classic mystery. With references to Murder She Wrote and a namecheck to John Watson, it takes the old and injects it with the new through political undertones and the polarising subject of immigration. Masterfully, Johnson’s script manages to take these divisive subtexts and ensure that his movie is truly inclusive by making pointed jokes at all sides of the political spectrum.
Set within the corridors of a Massachusetts mansion, the murder of an aged wealthy family patriarch kick-starts an investigation led by Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) – a detective dubbed ‘The Last of the Gentlemen Sleuths’. He is a wonderfully ridiculous creation, emanating tones of Sherlock Holmes but with a Deep Southern accent. Craig expertly gives him life, layering the Detective with humour, poise and the skill of lurking in the shadows delivering the occasional one-liner. Daniel Craig has rarely been this fun and it is a welcome partition from the stony-faced Bond he is known for.
But thus is the brilliance of Johnson’s writing, Craig isn’t the lead character here. With an ambitious cast ensemble citing big hitters like Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer it is inevitable that some actors feel tragically underused. There is a plethora of vicious vipers desperately out of a share of Harlen’s (Christopher Plummer) wealth and some stand out more than others.
Toni Collette is nothing but phenomenal as Instagram obsessed Influencer Joni, as is Chris Evans as the spoilt, foul-mouthed freeloader and black sheep of the family, Ransom. But in a choice that proves to be genius, Johnson tells the story through the eyes of an outsider and Harlan’s closest confidant, South American caregiver Marta (Ana de Armas).
Armas is exceptional in the role, proving that the Blade Runner alumni is more than capable of leading a movie. But in placing the South American as the lead, Johnson shines a microscope on society today. Utilising the manor as a depiction of America he subtly defines the factions, intolerance and institutionalised racism which has bogged the country for decades. The sheer fact that none of the inhabitants can agree with which country Marta comes from speaks of the political subtext which runs throughout. Yet incredibly Johnson doesn’t oversell the narrative resulting in a clear plotline and one which never feels laboured.
Knives Out manages to achieve the fundamental goal of a murder mystery: the killer remains a mystery until the reveal at the end. This is where Johnson’s masterful writing takes flight, with each twist and turn you are quickly delivered a satisfying ending which never leaves you feeling short changed.
The rhythm never stagnates or loses focus, ensuring the audience is kept at the centre of the plot. Each clue, revelation and question is offered up with minute detail and precision resulting in a gratifying plotline which stands alongside some of the best of its genre.
Knives Out is a rare breed of movie. It is a murder mystery reminiscent of the past, whilst setting the temperament of future installations of the genre. Johnson raises the bar, without jeopardising all the elements audiences love about these types of movies. With a wonderful cast – albeit somewhat overstuffed – an exemplary script and connotations of the current climate of American society, Knives Out proves that director Rian Johnson is made for intricate storytelling in place of those in a galaxy far-far-away.