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T&L Reviews: Knives Out

Our film critic, Ben Peyton, reviews drama mystery with Daniel Craig, Knives Out

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, Don Johnson, Noah Segan and Christopher Plummer

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s the 85th birthday of hugely successful thriller author, Harlan Thromby (Plummer). Celebrating in his huge gothic mansion all sorts of colourful characters are in attendance, most of them members of his family.

Barely two minutes have passed before Harlan is found dead in an apparent suicide, but the arrival of private investigator, Benoit Blanc (Craig), hired by an anonymous source, raises doubts about his death. As Blanc investigates the dysfunctional family, all become suspects as deceit, betrayal, misplaced loyalties and a tangled web of lies begin to slowly appear as the truth about his untimely passing is revealed.

Director and writer, Rian Johnson, fully embraces the classic ‘whodunnit’ genre made famous by writers such as Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and this is one of the film’s greatest strength. It never takes itself too seriously, is completely self-aware and revels in the arising conflicts as the mystery deepens. The dialogue is constant with hardly any moments of silence and showcases Johnson’s skill as a screenwriter. Not a single line is wasted and every character is magnificently defined through his way of writing them. Of course, the actors need to be skilled enough to bring these words to life and they do so triumphantly.

Johnson has assembled a stellar cast and although some are featured more than others, most have their moment in the spotlight, including Chris Evans who well and truly throws away Captain America’s shield as he cranks up the obnoxious to 11 and Toni Collette is a hippy with a chip on her shoulder. Noah Segan has the lion’s share of funny lines as a State Trooper, but also fan-boy in awe of Harlan’s writings and Blanc’s reputation, but it’s Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig that kill it.

As Marta, de Armas plays it straight as Harlan’s nurse and confidante. Aiding the investigation, she’s the perfect foil for Blanc’s quirks and shows a warmth and humility that most of the Thromby’s are lacking. In Blanc, Daniel Craig’s impeccable comic timing combined with a unique southern American accent has quickly established an intriguing, stylish sleuth that warrants more exploration in further films.

Flashbacks are cleverly used with subtle changes to certain scenes illustrating how different people remember the same event. The score, by Nathan Johnson, perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of a murder in a stately home and brings with it an air of nostalgia floating through the long wooden labyrinth-like corridors of the estate. His use of off-beat jazz music for the closing shot beautifully represents the chaos and confusion left in the wake of the unfortunate events.

Witty, intelligent, full of twists and a razor-sharp script, Knives Out is dead good and, as the next 007 adventure approaches, is a timely reminder that Craig has so much more than a license to kill in his locker. Could there be a sequel? If there isn’t, it would be a crime.

Knives Out cuts its way into UK cinemas November 27.