How Knives Out has reinvented the whodunnit

Four stars

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette

Rating: M

Running time: 130 minutes

Verdict: A razor-sharp whodunit

Hercule Poirot better watch his back.

A pompous new super sleuth appears to have appropriated his preposterous persona, although Daniel Craig’s version – Benoit Blanc — substitutes loud ties and braces for that extraordinary handlebar moustache.

Craig has also traded Poirot’s distinctive Belgian accent for an exaggerated Southern drawl.

To describe Knives Out simply as a homage to Agatha Christie would be selling director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) rather short.

Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig in Knives Out.Source:News Regional Media

This razor-sharp whodunit, which features a wonderfully eclectic cast, is more like a 21st century reboot —– the murder-mystery’s answer to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, if you will.

Johnson sets the tone with a cracker opening shot of two dogs running through the fog-shrouded grounds of the recently-deceased’s faux-Gothic mansion.

But while it’s dressed like one of the Queen Of Crime’s enduring classics, the film’s dialogue is deliciously deliberate and the characters have a brittle self-awareness that feels very contemporary.

The film’s underlying social commentary, about privilege and entitlement, is also right on point and the fiendishly complicated puzzle-box narrative is unusually satisfying.

Toni Collette stars as Joni Thrombey.

Toni Collette stars as Joni Thrombey.Source:News Regional Media

But what’s perhaps most surprising about Knives Out, which investigates the death of a best-selling crime writer on the night of his 85th birthday celebrations, is the filmmaker’s ability to rework overfamiliar tropes in a manner that makes them seem fresh again.

The identity of the killer is revealed unusually early in the piece, but that only adds to the intrigue as the dysfunctional Thrombey family implodes in the aftermath of their wealthy patriarch’s death.

Jamie Lee Curtis has a lot of fun with the role of the domineering daughter, Don Johnson is suitably cast as her weak-willed husband and Chris Evans plays against type as their self-serving son.

The movie features a star-studded cast including Jamie Lee Curtis (second from left), Chris Evans (third from left) and Katherine Langford (right).

The movie features a star-studded cast including Jamie Lee Curtis (second from left), Chris Evans (third from left) and Katherine Langford (right).Source:News Regional Media

Also taking a keen interest in the contents of late Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) will are his weak-willed son (Michael Shannon), who runs the publishing arm of his father’s estate, Toni Collette’s widowed daughter-in-law, and their respective offspring.

Putting everyone just a little off balance is Thrombey’s loyal nurse and companion, Marta Cabrera (Blade Runner 2049’s Ana de Armas), who everyone insists is “like one of the family”, even though no one can remember which country she comes from —
the family’s insular attitude to Marta’s national identity is a running joke throughout the film.

Further unsettling potential suspects is the strange affliction from which Marta suffers — unable to tell a lie, she vomits each time she utters an untruth.

While Craig’s performance occasionally wobbles under the weight of its own artifice, the momentum created by Knives Out’s multiple plot twists, turns and double-backs corrects his balance each time.

Clever, funny and hugely entertaining.

Opens November 28; advance previews at selected cinemas this weekend

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