Knives Out is an exceptionally well-crafted old school murder mystery from writer/director Rian Johnson, recalling various Agatha Christie greats, and related twisty-turny films such as Sleuth. If like me you are a connoisseur of the genre, you will find much to enjoy here, in this tale of a famous crime author who supposedly commits suicide on his 85th birthday, amid a country house full of potential murder suspects. Deep south private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play. And yes, he nails the accent as well as the killer.
Naturally, a film like this requires an all-star cast, and Knives Out doesn’t disappoint in that area. In addition to Craig, you get Christopher Plummer, as murdered novelist, Harlan Thrombey. Other family members are played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Katherine Langford. There’s also a key role for Ana de Armas, as Harlan’s nurse, Marta.
Although this is first and foremost a delicious entertainment, there are traces of political commentary in the film; perhaps unintentional, but nonetheless reflecting what is clearly important to the director. Harlan’s family could be seen as America in microcosm, in their tediously polarised differences of political opinion, the often casually racist attitude to Marta (a running gag has them unable to agree on her country of origin), and in particular their hypocrisy when it comes to her treatment, even from characters who profess sympathy. One also can’t help but wonder whether the character of Jacob (Jaeden Martell), a sixteen- year old alt-right internet troll, isn’t a personification of a certain vocal (but I’m convinced minor) faction of Star Wars fandom, who took exception to Johnson’s previous film, The Last Jedi.
Of course, none of that is preachy or explored in great detail. Nor does it matter that I predicted the killer very early. The chief pleasure comes from watching Blanc unravel the how and the why of the puzzle with Poirot-esque aplomb (and just a dash of Columbo in there too, I fancy). I wonder whether Daniel Craig could be tempted back for further cases? I hope so. At this point though, Knives Out is a deftly plotted, witty, satirical whodunnit, with an awareness of genre that contains just the right amount of send-up. All in all, great fun.