LFF2019: Knives Out [REVIEW]: A Fortuitous Mystery with a Refreshingly Moralistic Heart

Film Section Columnist | Luke Hetherington

Rian Johnson’s latest film will be review-bombed online by knicker-twisted hoodlums online still sore over Luke Skywalker’s depiction. Such is the price you pay for subversion. Knives Out – an Agatha Christie whodunit that has been pickled in a barrel of narrative twists and slyly raised eyebrows – is more in line with his High School Noir Brick than The Last Jedi. His Star Wars sequel had sprinklings of humour and a few unanticipated developments, but Knives Out seeks to definitively fondle and reject mystery structure. Benoit Blanc’s (Daniel Craig) modus operandi is to observe the plot unfolding and just be there at its natural conclusion to assemble the suspects in the drawing-room. However, Johnson interrupts that moment.

Multimillionaire novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has apparently committed suicide and his vulturous offspring could be after his will. Rather than follow Craig’s Southern-fried Poirot, the deceased’s kind-hearted nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) is the central figure amongst the sea of Trumpian suspects (‘self-made’ people who received a small seven-figure loan from dad). Johnson has managed something incredibly rare these days; a subtextual skewering of American politics that does not bombard with border walls and entitled rich kids. Marta’s immigrant family and their contrast against the wealthy is clear but never detracts from the narrative, all the while reminding us about the virtues of kindness in difficult times without soppy preaching.

Daniel Craig in Knives out distributed by Lionsgate
(Source: empireonline.com)

Those who hated Craig’s accent in Logan Lucky will be unhappy, but as an underrated actor of range, he tackles a chewy sound with glee, delivering dryly silly lines that crippled the audience with laughter. Blanc is typically astute sleuth, but his passivity revitalises a dull character archetype. As is the issue with ensemble casts, certain actors with the name Lakeith Stanfield are under-used. Though the introduction of primary targets has a delicious repetition of every ‘loving’ family member being the one close to Harlan in subjective flashbacks; this is one of the many examples of the film’s rich, intertextual-filled textual pleasures. Although, these early scenes feel like true-crime documentary interviews with their character titles and framing, which is oddly dropped. Perhaps to mislead our focus.

Johnson plays his hand with the big revelation so early we are left to think “what the heck is the bigger revelation going to be?”. The bigger revelation does not buckle under the weight of its expectation, tying up every loose end and delivering enough satisfaction along the way to not disappoint regardless of whether or not the cat catches the mouse. Or maybe the mouse will catch the cat. Or maybe everyone is a cat.

Knives Out is out in UK cinemas from November 29, 2019

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