Wednesday 27 November 2019

Film Review: Knives Out

With an A-list cast featuring the likes of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Jaime Lee Curtis, the game is afoot in Rian Johnson's riotous murder mystery, Knives Out.

Renowned novelist and patriarch of a combative, colourful family, Walter Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is dead. Found with his throat slit in his opulent study, he leaves behind his sprawling New York estate, ample fortune and lucrative publishing business – which his children and grandchildren are now scrambling to sink their hooks into.

There's self-made real estate mogul Linda (Jaime Lee Curtis); heir apparent Walt (Michael Shannon); clingy daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette); trust fund playboy Ransom (Chris Evans); and desperate son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson).

As the vultures circle and the knives come out, in swoops famed Southern sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a cigar-chewing detective with a taste for the theatric. With no shortage of suspects and a curious case to solve, Blanc sets to work piecing together the puzzle, with the aid of Walter's cherished caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas).

When people say "they don't make them like they used to", just point them in the direction of Knives Out. A clever and compelling exploration (and at times, a straight-up pisstake) of the murder mystery genre, writer/director Johnson is evidently having the time his life peeling back the layers of this well-worn genre and poking holes in them, before reworking it into something fresh and exciting.

The trick with any effective murder mystery is to outfox a viewer expecting to be fooled. After all, deception and skulduggery come with the territory. Johnson cleverly anticipates where the audience is going, and deftly outmanoeuvres them at every turn – going so far as to feed you what you think is the answer before the halfway mark, leaving the viewer questioning where this could possibly go next.

And if the mystery doesn't captivate you (there's always one smartypants who thinks they have it sussed), there's no shortage of other elements to enjoy, from the ornate production and set design to Steve Yedlin's moody cinematography and Nathan Johnson's suitably frenetic strings on the score.

But what good is a clever film without a compelling cast. And in Knives Out, Johnson has cooked up the best of the year. There simply isn't a weak link in the sprawling ensemble cast, with each family member taking turns as scene-stealer. Curtis is a hoot as she sends strings acidic barbs across the sitting room, while Evans plays against type as the smug black sheep who swans in with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face.

Craig, only a few months away from hanging up his Walther PPK for the last time, is unshackled from the sombreness of 007 here, mixing a suave Southern drawl with keen-eyed observation – for Detective Blanc, no detail is too small or insignificant. He's a delight, and in a just world, Craig's hilarious performance would score him a surefire Oscar nomination.

And if he deserves an Oscar for his comedic turn, de Armas is equally deserving for her dramatic one. Quietly, without causing a stir like Evans or Craig, de Armas conjures up a compelling and nuanced performance coated with sincerity.

The Verdict: 10/10

A star-studded affair where everyone is having the time of their lives amidst the twists and tangles of Johnson's wickedly wonderful screenplay, the less you know about Knives Out, the better. Avoid all clues and delight in the deliciousness of this genuinely thrilling genre gem.

Knives Out is in cinemas across Australia tomorrow.

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