Dir: Rian Johnson, 2019
I wasn’t sure what to make of this one, before I saw it. It looked like fun, and a friend whose opinion I respect recommended it. But it looked a bit period-y, and I’ve never been that into Agatha Christie.
I was wrong: it’s not period-y at all. In fact, it’s pretty much modern day, and falls into the Hail, Caesar! and Grand Budapest Hotel ensemble semi-farce category that I spend so much of my time enjoying, these days.
So what the eff is it? Well, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) – a very successful, very old author – is dead. And he’s got a big, financially hungry family. And some staff. So how did this come about? Yes, it’s a modern “who did it?” film. That’s right – a whodidit. Maybe he did it. But why is there a private investigator in addition to the standard cops?
Knives Out was written and directed by Rian Johnson. The name looked familiar, so I looked him up. He’s done at least three films that I think are great, so he’s now on my watchlist. Well, three including this. He’s also got Brick and Looper, which I really enjoyed, and Star Wars: the Last Jedi, which I am not sure my memory can differentiate from any other new Star Wars film, but which I am sure I reasonably enjoyed at the time.
This kind of film essentially stands or falls on the quality of the cast (and the writing of course, but you really need a big cast like this to pull its weight). As you can see from my tags, we’ve got some big hitters here, and they are all great, despite (or because of) Daniel Craig’s accent which I think is supposed to be New Orleans but does go round the houses a bit. Craig plays Benoit Blanc, the aforementioned PI, and it’s a role we can see him ageing into after he finally turns Bond down once and for all. Most of the cast, though, constitute the remaining Thrombey family, and they’re like the Royal Tenenbaums but with a story to hold them together. A story of inheritance! Oh, and how their dear dad perished.
I don’t know about you, but I regularly get confused by sleuth films and heist films. Knives Out is reasonably easy to follow (no spoilers) for the most part, and I can’t really think of any plot holes beyond the occasional coincidence. Don’t ask me to name them now, as I can’t remember: I just remember thinking “hmm, how convenient that the thing did the thing at that time”. Nowhere near as beautifully confusing as, say Logan Lucky (which incidentally has my favourite Daniel Craig performance outside Our Friends in the North).
I know certain sectors of the audience enjoy Chris Evans, especially considering he’s approached the opportunity to play a bad boy with some gusto. And he is good. But he’s nowhere near as raspily charismatic as the giant-headed acting savant that is Michael Shannon. From his role as on-the-edge Bureau of Prohibition agent George Mueller in Boardwalk Empire to his noble attempts to save Man of Steel by playing the life out of General Zod, Shannon is the best actor in everything he’s in. (Honestly, if you don’t believe me, please watch My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done; or Midnight Special; or Little Drummer Girl; or The Runaways; or The Iceman; or Shotgun Stories; or The Shape of Water. I’ve not even seen Take Shelter.)
Shannon actually doesn’t play a pivotal role, but he is great when sharing scenes with protagonist Marta Cabrera (played by Ana de Armas), the late Harlan Thrombey’s nurse and the centre of the intrigue. This is the first I’ve seen of de Armas, but she plays the caring, somewhat discombobulated Cabrera very well. There is also a great detail, possibly a statement about White America’s view on immigrants, that whenever a family member mentions where she is from, it is always a different South American country.
Rest assured: the story is excellent, and it finishes satisfactorily. What does intrigue me is the fact that this $40m budget film has so far made over $300m worldwide. So we’re getting a Knives Out 2 (Electric Boogaloo)! Quite what it will be about I don’t know. What happens next with Marta and the Thrombeys, or will it be a Fargo (TV series)-style thematic sequel with no direct ties. Given the way cinema is going, with its conveyor belt approach to film-making, the studio will fear the latter would confuse everyone. But if Johnson remains at the helm, it should be high quality nevertheless.