Sharp Mystery Abounds, with Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Many More.
DIRECTED BY: RIAN JOHNSON/2019
While Kenneth Branagh brought back famed detective Hercule Poirot to reintroduce audiences to the classic Agatha Christie “who-dunnit”, Murder on the Orient Express, it is director Rian Johnson who has truly brought back the genre with a fun, and modern murder mystery in his latest film, Knives Out. Like Murder on the Orient Express, Knives Out is a film chocked full of stars, all of whom may be the villain. It is a tale unlike anything else Johnson has done, and the polar opposite of his last film, the boundary pushing, and fan-dividing 8th episode of Star Wars, The Last Jedi, which saw many have their knives out for Johnson.
Knives Out involves the murder of one Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a murder mystery writer whose house is built to reflect the very books he has written that made him wealthy. The most prominent piece of his house is the giant “Game of Thrones” styled chair made completely of knives. When he is found dead, with his throat slashed, police detective Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) arrives to begin the investigation, but all eyes are on famed investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) whose involvement in this case is its own mystery.
The suspects include Harlan’s children and their spouses, Linda and Richard Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson), Walt and Donna Thrombey (Michael Shannon and Riki Lindhome), and Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette). His grandchildren are even a little suspicious, especially the arrogant Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans). Lastly, there is Harlan’s nurse and personal confidant, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). It will be up to Benoit Blanc to work his way through the clues and expose the murderer before they have a chance to cover their tracks or, worse still, kill again.
It is obvious that everyone in this film is having a lot of fun, none more so than Daniel Craig, whose Benoit Blanc is like an eccentric Col. Sanders whose long southern drawl is meant to cause others to underestimate him much like Peter Falk’s Columbo absent-mindedness act did for him. Craig proves again, following his Logan Lucky character Joe Bang, that he has a certain affinity for comedy, especially when it involves utilizing southern American accents. Before heading back in to what seems to be his final outing as James Bond in next year’s No Time to Die, Craig is obviously relishing getting to play characters that are the polar opposite of of 007.
Much has been written about Knives Out being a perfect murder mystery storyline that is built for the “Trump age”. This is partly due to Marta being a dreamer, whose mother is an illegal immigrant, whose status being revealed is a possible motive in Harlan Thrombey’s death. It is also due to arrogance of those with wealth and power that is seen in each of Thrombey’s relatives, who even if they are one of the non-guilty ones they certainly had their own “truths” to justify their being a suspect.
That said, the political points that could be made from some of the details are not so heavy-handed as to alienate anyone in the audience. They are used, however, to reflect a thoroughly modern take on the murder mystery genre that seems more built for our times than Kenneth Branagh’s take on Agatha Christie stories (Death on the Nile is filming at the time of this writing) which still exist in their original setting.
The true test for this film is not the potential political push-back of some of the story lines, but whether audiences who strongly disliked The Last Jedi will have knives out for Johnson by trying to sabotage his follow up by staying away from theaters altogether. The toxic fandom that reacted to Johnson’s Star Wars film by effectively sinking the next Star Wars film that came out, Solo, is a loud vocal minority that is truly capable of it.
It may have been a little easier to sink Solo given that it was a Star Wars story, and was released so quickly after The Last Jedi. Knives Out, however, is a completely different type of film, with an all-star cast, and as such, it may be difficult to generate the same emotional fervor against Johnson, especially when Knives Out is so much fun. That said, the next Star Wars installment is about to drop in December, in just a few weeks, so this may be relevant after all. No matter how that mystery plays out, Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig are open to more murderous fun involving Benoit Blanc, and as long as Knives Out kills at the box office, we will see more of this collaboration in the future.