After his 85th birthday, wealthy novel writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead. The police believe it is a suicide but when a mysterious benefactor hires the private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) it becomes clear that something more sinister is afoot.
With last year bringing us the fantastic novel ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ and this year bringing us ‘Knives Out’, it seems that the murder mystery genres is poised for a revival. It is not only their examination of the genre that links these two but how they approach the subject matter. They build upon what has gone before but with a wink and a nod to the past, they start to plough their own furrow.
A murder mystery film largely succeeds or fails on how the intrigue is presented to the audience. A lazy filmmaker will hide or obfuscate facts to stop the audience from reaching the conclusion prematurely. Whereas a good one will give you everything you need to deduce it early on but can keep you guessing until the big reveal. I am glad to say that ‘Knives Out’ takes that later route.
It does start as a fairly standard if enjoyable affair as the scenario and characters are introduced. But as the first act starts to come to a close we are presented with an intriguing twist to the genre, that I am not going to spoil here, but it is when things really start coming together. The film plays with and bends the genre all over the place without breaking it. Which is really what a genre is meant to be there for, rather than just knocking out lazy rip-offs. For someone like me that has seen every possible version of Poirot and Sherlock Holmes it really reminds me of how I felt the first time seeing them.
Although an ensemble cast can often sound like a great idea on paper, it can often fail in the actuality. Suffice to say you get your money's worth here. By its very nature, some get to do more than others but you get a sense of every character and each is fleshed out with their own ticks and oddities. Within the Thrombey family, it is Michael Shannon that really steals the show. He’s always had a decidedly weird screen presence so even within a cast of people playing oddballs he still stands out.
Daniel Craig’s turn as a Southern detective is some scenery-chewing delight and I rarely ever state this, but I’d happily see that character get a spinoff or some sort of follow up. Ana de Armas’s character is really where the heart of the film lies, as we see most of it through her eyes. They also have zippy chemistry in their scenes together, which bodes well for when we will see them on screen together again in the next Bond film.
There are some attempts at social commentary, some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but it never gets in the way. However, within the narrative, there are some nice little moral messages about and how money corrupts. It updates the genre for the 21st century not while still giving us an earned nostalgia hit. It is a total delight to watch and a must-see for any fans of the murder mystery genre.