Knives Out arrives as a sort-of filmmaking palate cleanser. The follow-up to director Rian Johnson’s foray into the Star Wars universe (the divisive, fitfully brilliant and occasionally maddening The Last Jedi) is a tightly-constructed murder mystery, an amusing take on the Agatha Christie model, with a cast packed with familiar faces. What Johnson has gifted in his attempt to return to his genre routes (previous works include Brick and Looper) is a rollickingly enjoyable thriller, which manages to be one of the year’s most out-and-out enjoyable cinematic endeavours.
As is to be expected, the film opens with a death. The victim is Harlan Thrombey, the highly successful author of a series of murder mysteries. Famed detective Benoit Blanc is soon on the scene, to pull apart the nest of vipers that is Thrombey’s family and piece together the puzzle his untimely passing has created.
Much of the joy of Knives Out comes from a craftsman cutting loose and making exactly the kind of film he wants to make. Johnson has throughout his career skilfully deconstructed genre fare, rebuilding it in front of audiences’ eyes, and his work here is no different. The director creates an exquisitely-designed world, with set and costume that will surely reward on repeat viewing. But on the initial watch, this is all about the ride, with a witty script deliciously chewed up by a number of fabulous turns.
And what a magnificent ensemble it is. The Thrombeys are made up of a premium crop of cult actors, including the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Toni Colette, with each given fabulous dialogue to perform and wonderfully repugnant personas to take on. As there is the feeling of a creative letting loose to craft the film, so too is there a feeling that a number of franchise stars are being given the freedom to play against type. Chris Evans goes from America’s arse to America’s arsehole in a stonking scene-stealing turn that lifts the film just as it threatens to drag. Daniel Craig, as Benoit Blanc, is having perhaps the most fun he has had in a long time, with a simply fabulous Southern-fried accent that elicits many a laugh. I would take a new entry in a potential Knives Out franchise just to watch Craig get to run with this persona. Yet the real star of the film is Ana de Armas. Where others threaten to be merely two-dimensional, she gives Knives Out some humanity, keeping us engaged throughout, in a subtle and brilliantly moving performance.
Knives Out is one of the coups of 2019, an exquisitely-crafted comedy thriller with a magnificent cast, and a director having the kind of fun franchises rarely allow. The film rewards its audience with a wealth of laughs and enough thrills to keep us on the edge of our seats. Hopefully this is not the last we’ve seen of Benoit Blanc.