Whodunnits are never just about who did it. They are about the dynamic between head and heart – how and why someone takes the ultimate decision to kill another. Writer-director Rian Johnson understands this perfectly, building a dense web of motivations and opportunities that speak volumes about human nature and America today.
It’s no spoiler alert to reveal that the victim is Harlan Thrombey (a wonderful Christopher Plummer), the wealthy patriarch of a dynasty built upon a lifetime writing murder mysteries. His family, who seem liberal and well-meaning at first glance, quickly reveal their jealousy, selfishness and desperation for power the second their status is under threat. It feels like a similar skewering of white middle-class America to what Get Out managed, and Johnson’s script is full of sharp, insightful dialogue.
The trailers have understandably paraded Knives Out’s all-star cast, including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson, but the real lead is a brilliant Ana de Armas. Her role as a carer and confidante for Harlan puts her in a fascinating position after he dies, and her identity – working class, Latina, daughter of illegal immigrants – politicises the aftermath in ingenious ways.
Whereas the contemporary killer-culture boom, from Serial to Mindhunter, feels more concerned with psychology, Knives Out earns its stripes in its approach to justice. Johnson structures the film so the real question seems to be not who killed Harlan Thrombey, but who deserves to get the inheritance everyone is lusting after, and who deserves to go to prison.
That doesn’t diminish the procedural joys of the plot, with threads unravelled beautifully by Daniel Craig’s delightful eccentric detective Benoit Blanc. Family feuds are only fun when you’re watching them, and this one is a blast – a smart, funny ensemble cast delivering a surprisingly poignant kick in the tail.
CAST: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
WRITER: Rian Johnson
SYNOPSIS: A detective investigates the death of the patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.