Traditional murder mysteries are somewhat of a rare commodity these days. The days of sleuths like Jessica Fletcher, Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple are mostly over. But in Hollywood, nothing is truly dead which can eternal lie, and things are bound to come back around.
A few years ago we had a stylish retelling of classic Agatha Christie tale Murder on the Orient Express (with a version of Death of the Nile set for next year) but apart from that they’ve been conspicuously a stent from our screens, and are well due a return.
I, for one, welcome their return too, I think there’s a gap in the market for just this kind of thing. But the thing with a mystery is it stops being interesting after it is solved. Therefore they don’t often reward rewatches, but a good mystery with unpredictable twists and turns is always worth the investment.
Mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the day after his 85th Birthday. As the family gathers to mourn, the enigmatic Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives to unravel the twisted tale.
This was a big film for Rian Johnson. Coming of the back of a somewhat divisive (to say the least) Star Wars film, a solid genre piece was just what he needed to bounce back in people’s eyes, and it’s safe to say we underestimated him.
Of course, Johnson is no slouch. His 2012 sci-fi Looper showed that he is comfortable with a genre film; he’s a great talent behind the camera, and this film proves once more why.
His script is sharp and elegant, building the tension as each relationship is explored and tested to breaking point. It has several smart foreshadows to the final reveal, and while we might think it plays its hand early, it always feels like there’s a joker in the pack.
The relationships are what drives the film for me; each character is distinct and dripping in personality, some more than others, admittedly, but there was already a lot to juggle, but as it builds each character, it also reveals their motives and their movements, building a feeling of distrust in each of them.
It’s a stylish premise well executed, the tale of a mystery writer, renowned for writing about unsolved murder, a vulture-like family circling for their inheritance, and a charismatic detective searching for the truth.
Daniel Craig steals this film for me as Benoit Blanc. He’s a rare character in that he wouldn’t be out of place in an Agatha Christie story, yet he still manages to feel modern and fresh, exuding personality and character.
The direction also helps in the films personality, not only in creating the moments between characters, but by portraying different parts of the vast manor in which the story is set. It is filled with odd artefacts, and it just adds to the films mysterious oeuvre, tinged with a slightly surreal edge.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed Knives Out. It may seem a bit long to some, but when telling this type of story, the narrative needs room to breathe, and with such interesting characters it never stops being fun. It is very much like its central character in the way it defies time periods. It feels fresh and new, but it would have felt the same way in many previous decades. To me, it’s another reminder of the incredible talent Rian Johnson can be, and a fitting rebirth for the whodunnit.