Friday, 11 October 2019

LFF 2019: Knives Out

If Kenneth Branagh's do-over of Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express has ushered in a new age of whodunnits, then all power to him. I haven't seen that film, because despite somehow avoiding spoilers for an 83-year-old story for my entire life, someone who shall remain nameless ruined the end for me in the kitchen at work, yeah thanks CATHY. Fortunately even she couldn't spoil Knives Out for me because she wasn't at the LFF screening of it this week, but I was, so guess who's going to have a fun, movie-ruining chat in the kitchen next week? That's right, better bring your fucking earplugs on Monday Cathy, my chatty friend!

Anyway. Cathy excluded, most of you should be able to make it to Knives Out without some twat spoiling it for you, what with it being an original story by its director Rian Johnson. Turns out Johnson's talents range all the way from triggering Star Wars incels to crafting sharply-observed, brain-twisting murder-mysteries with a killer cast including one Daniel Wroughton Craig, who hasn't had this much fun on screen since he played a stormtrooper in The Force Awakens. For this alone, we must thank Johnson with all our hearts.
Craig plays master detective and "last of the gentleman sleuths" (it's such a shame that one so rarely gets the chance to use the word 'sleuth' in everyday conversation) Benoit Blanc, hired to ferret out the killer of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), an 85-year-old multi-millionaire crime novelist and head of the dysfunctional Thrombey family. DC is having a ruddy ball here, losing himself in an accent you could coat chicken with and serve at a Cajun restaurant. I find it fascinating that in all of Craig's non-Bond film roles since Skyfall (to be fair, there've only been four, including The Force Awakens), he's gone for American accents, and two of those have been from the southern states. It's almost as if he's trying to push himself as far away from Bond as possible for some reason.

But Johnson has also assembled an incredible roster of suspects for Blanc to Poirot at until they blab. Jamie Lee Curtis is the hard-ass matriarch, Don Johnson her philandering husband, Chris Evans their arrogant son. Michael Shannon plays against type as Thrombey's pitiful youngest child, Toni Collette is his hippy-dippy sister-in-law and Lakeith Stanfield is an easy-going but none-too-effective cop. Meanwhile Ana de Armas, almost certainly destined to be one of Bond's cock-warmers in the forthcoming 007 film, whatever it's called, plays Thrombey's immigrant nurse. Even M Emmett Walsh rocks up at one point, providing the film's biggest surprise: he's still alive! It's a star-studded cast in keeping with the Agatha Christie adaptations of old - and new, thanks to Ken - and it's a delight to watch them play off each other.
Naturally every character has a potential motive for bumping off the old man, and these are explored in a slickly-written and edited opening barrage of interviews between Stanfield's plod and the family. Johnson twists and weaves back and forth through his story's timeline, sometimes slipping the audience a little more information than the characters, sometimes vice versa. It's enough to keep you on your toes, and enough to make you boggle at what the wall of Post-It notes in his writer's room must have looked like. And Johnson remembers to slip plenty of gags into his film's cracks, not least of which is Blanc's baffling "doughnut hole" speech, which I could happily listen to on a loop for days.

There's a welcome, if a little thin, seam of political commentary running through proceedings: one scene sees a family discussion stop just short of them all donning MAGA caps, and it's enough to make you realise that what's going on here is a mild critique of inherited wealth, white privilege and anti-immigration sentiment. It's a grace note more than anything, never threatening to overwhelm the entertainment, but a little more of that kind of thing wouldn't have gone amiss. What we get instead is hard to complain about: two hours of solidly crafted, cleverly plotted fun. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed by the big reveal, but that's fine because I'm sure Knives Out is merely the first in a series of Benoit Blanc mysteries. After all, surely Daniel Craig is looking for a new franchise right about now?

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