After the hugely anticipated and divisive The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson brings us a delightful and comparatively miniscule whodunnit in Knives Out. Following the supposed suicide of a renowned murder mystery novel writer, his family are brought in for questioning by the mysterious Detective Benoit Blanc who suspects “foul play”.
The excellence in any good whodunnit is the ability to hide the answer in plain sight. Suspicious of the quiet ones and wary of red herrings, the murder-mystery subgenre has been victim to many well-trodden tropes, and by this point it is hard to deliver something that keeps you guessing all the way to the end. Knives Out keeps you guessing, then leaves you unsure of what you are even guessing for. Johnson has created a story structure that flips your expectations of a whodunnit and leaves you – in the best way possible – with no clue of where the story can go next. It is a unique take on the murder-mystery formula, which still has its tropes and clichés (like hidden windows and creaking stairwells) but features them with a nod and a wink.
Bringing the mystery to life is a truly excellent cast. Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, described as “the last of the gentlemen sleuths”, is a joy to watch as the excellent yet goofy detective, and is a nice reminder that Craig has his abilities outside of MI6. The ensemble cast, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer and Chris Evans are brilliant as the bickering family, guised as nice people with their true selves evading the magnifying glass of Detective Blanc. However, the stand-out performance comes from Ana de Armas, playing the nurse of the recently deceased. de Armas is at the centre of the story – a sheep navigating its way through a house full of wolves – and brings an emotionality that is absent from most other characters. Regardless, each character is easily defined and uniquely themselves, ranging from pretentious life-style gurus to online Nazi trolls.
Knives Out meshes fantastically with Johnson’s style of directing. Every scene wracks up tension, drip feeds you the answers, while dousing you with more questions, and even has a go at some contemporary commentary – which is never as on the nose as any of the heavy-handed commentary featured in The Last Jedi. Johnson takes on writing duties as well, delivering a punchy and often hilarious script, and applies it to a world that feels vibrant and full of character whilst it sinks its claws deep into the audience. Every manner of Knives Out is presented with the confidence that elevated Johnson’s previous works such as Looper.
To anyone put off by the antics of The Last Jedi, fear not. Knives Out should reinvigorate your excitement for Johnson’s work and may be the most fun I’ve had this year at the cinema. This is a funny, perplexing, tense, rewatchable and superbly acted whodunnit, that even left me craving more adventures of Detective Benoit Blanc.