Part Agatha Christie homage, part reimagining of “Clue” with just a pinch of “Murder By Death”, Rian Johnson’s latest murder mystery film is as wittily subversive as you might expect and while it’s no gamechanger it’s still a welcome injection of honest to goodness fun into the ponderous, stultifying multiplexes of late 2019.
When the dysfunctional Thrombey family gather to celebrate the 85th birthday of wealthy murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey, the celebrations are brought to an abrupt halt when the housekeeper finds the elderly patriarch dead in his study, his throat slit. Although the death is ruled as a suicide, there are a few loose ends to tie up, not least of all why somebody hired famed private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate the matter before Harlan’s demise. And then, of course, there’s the matter of the will…
There’s a playfulness to “Knives Out”, an impudent confidence that acts as the most reassuring rebuttal of the relentless assault of the tiny vocal minority of whiny bitter Star Wars fanboys and shows that he’s been able to shrug off the slings and arrows and returned to the big screen to play with knives. There’s a nostalgic feel to the film, a kind of rosy, cosy callback to the star-studded murder mysteries of the seventies where studios fell over themselves to cram as many star names into the cast and on to the poster for whatever adaptation of Agatha Christie had returned to the top of the Rolodex.
Of course, this is a Rian Johnson film so it’s never going to be content with being just a star-studded murder mystery. No, there’s fun to be had not only in trying to guess the twists and turns of the actual plot but also in trying to guess what structural flourishes Johnson has up his sleeve too. For a while, I thought we were being given a fascinating duel of wits between the worlds best detective and the worlds finest mystery writer, as if one had dared the other to solve his own creation but when the actual circumstances of the murder are revealed quite early on, there’s still a whole lot of sleuthing to do.
The cast are clearly having an absolute ball as they wind their way through the petty rivalries and tangled web of lies which bind the family together, but perhaps nobody’s enjoying themselves quite as much as Daniel Craig, all twinkly-eyed southern-drawl charm as the idiosyncratic sleuth and Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale, the spoiled trust fund brat. There’s not a single member of the cast that doesn’t earn their spot, though, and their sheer exuberant joy at larking around in the mischievously macabre playground Johnson has created spills off the screen to embrace the audience.
There have been more important films released this year, but there have been few, if any, which are as flat-out enjoyable as “Knives Out”, a movie I cannot wait to watch again, curled up on the sofa on a lazy afternoon.