A large mansion, a family at loggerheads, a patriarchal father found dead with a slit throat, and an eccentric detective, provides all the elements required for a classic murder mystery.
As the Thrombey family gathers to mourn the suicide of their famous crime novelist father (Christopher Plummer), they are questioned both by the police, and their rather curious consultant, the renowned gentlemen sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Quickly Blanc ascertains that something is amiss, but is he, with the aid of the Trombey’s nurse (Ana de Armas), able to unravel the family’s lies and secrets, to work out who is responsible for the murder?
Knives Out is a slick reimplementation of the “whodunit” genre. Writer and director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) twists the form early in the piece, skewing audience’s expectations as to what the film is going to deliver. Of course, it’s no surprise that there are a few more twists and turns to be unveiled before the finale – that’s the genre. However, Johnson manages them well, delivering something different and rather special.
Obviously a cast of such distinction is a help, allowing a bevy of talented actors (Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette) to form the horde of suspects. Wasting no time they are plunged into events, building the web of lies and dubious alibis to be carefully dismantled during the course of events. Daniel Craig is in fine form doing this, relishing in the bravado performance of famed detective Benoit Blanc. It’s a collection of over the top mannerisms and contorted speech patterns that make him simultaneously a perfect fit for the genre, and a work of damning satire to the archetype. In an almost Schrödinger’s cat-like way Blanc is simultaneously a keen Holmesian intellect and a bumbling Clouseau figure – and you are never really sure which it is till the end. Craig brings this perfectly to life, revelling in the larger than life characteristics with only a hint of playing them for laughs.
Hence Knives Out is not merely a solid murder mystery, but a great piece of comic satire, both of the tropes of the genre, and skewering the politics of the wealthy (both right and left). It often plays fairly close to the traditional style of a whodunit but reinvigorates it through comedy and impeccable implementation.