Knives Out (4 stars)

Knives Out

LFF 2019: Rian Johnson has a ball mounting a star-studded whodunnit

Helming a billion-dollar Star Wars movie buys you a hell of a lot of brownie points, but if this is Rian Johnson indulging himself artistically he's at least had the decency to make it bloody good fun. With Knives Out he assembles a high-calibre cast for a wickedly knowing, flamboyantly bitchy take on the whodunnit.

The victim is Christopher Plummer's wildly successful mystery writer Harlan Thrombey, found with his throat slit at the outset in an apparent, outlandish, suicide. As Johnson delights in the décor of Harlan's macabre country manor – filled with knick-knacks to inspire nightmares – the motives of the author's family members pile up. A bunch of needy, grasping backstabbers, they include his publisher son Walt (Michael Shannon), realtor daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Linda's husband Richard (Don Johnson), Harlan's flaky daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and his spoilt grandson Ransom (Chris Evans).

Despite the big names, the story swirls around lesser-known thesp Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), as Harlan's devoted nurse Marta. This timid sparrow is taken under the wing of puffed-up private detective Benoit Blanc; coming off like Poirot crossed with Matthew McConaughey, he's there on the dollar of a mystery employer. In a neat touch, Blanc is played by James Bond himself, as Daniel Craig returns to the comedic territory that served him so well in Logan Lucky, donning an outrageous Deep South accent and visibly relishing each and every utterance.

Recalling Johnson's debut Brick, which offered a playful, high school-set crack at a film noir, it's a glossy, perfectly pitched production, put together with spry style and an equal desire to honour and subvert the tropes of the genre; an early reveal represents a risk that gives the film a different flavour. Featuring the 'dumbest car chase of all time', a torturous doughnut analogy and a glorious final sight gag, it's a frivolous yet finessed addition to awards season. 'That's certainly not what I was expecting,' scoffs Richard after one particular game-changer. This might not be entirely what audiences expect either, but it's all the better for it.

Screening on Tue 8, Wed 9 and Sun 13 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. General release from Wed 27 Nov.

Knives Out

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h 10min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Rian Johnson
  • Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer
  • UK release: 27 November 2019

When mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) is found with his throat slit, puffed-up private detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) gets on the case. A wickedly knowing, flamboyantly bitchy take on the whodunnit, with a great cast, bags of style and a splendidly outrageous comic turn from Craig. Bloody good fun.