Sunday 26 January 2020

Knives Out by Rian Johnson

Knives Out is a sheer delight. It came out at the end of 2019 but I've only just caught up with it, so I'll be placing it among my favourite films of 2020.

Knives Out is written and directed by Rian Johnson. I've admired his work from his first feature, Brick, which was a Dashiell Hammett crime drama cleverly mutated into a high school movie.

Since then Johnson has made the time travel thriller Looper, which I liked, and The Last Jedi, which I liked even more.

But I think Knives Out is his finest movie yet. It's an intricately plotted whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie.

It's also a darkly funny comedy with some savage observations about the rich in America. It reminded me in many ways of Ready or Not, though there's no hint of the supernatural here, no whiff of brimstone.

Knives Out tells the story of an ageing and fabulously wealthy patriarch, the wonderfully named Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who dies under dubious circumstances after a family gathering.

Harlan earned his fortune writing cunningly complex mystery novels and his apparent suicide soon reveals itself to be a murderous puzzle worthy of one of his books.

And there's no shortage of suspects... the Thrombey family is basically a nest of snakes.

At the heart of the story is Marta Cabrera, Harlan's nurse and carer and one of the few people he likes and trusts.

Marta is played by the exquisite Ana de Armas, whom I last saw as Ryan Gosling's virtual girlfriend in Blade Runner 2049. She's a fabulous actress, with a great quality of warmth and empathy which she brings to her character here.

Which doesn't necessarily mean you should trust her... or anyone else in this lovingly convoluted plot.

De Armas is Cuban, but it's a good question what nationality Marta is... in one of the running gags of the movie, all of the Thrombeys have a different notion of where she comes from. (Because they don't care enough to really find out.)

Among these wickedly amusingly and distinctly dubious characters comes a private detective, an eccentric genius again in the Agatha Christie tradition, a southern gentleman called Benoit Blanc, played with aplomb by Daniel Craig.

And he's determined to find out what really happened on the night of Harlan Thrombey's death. What ensues is a beautiful series of twists and surprises, immaculately plotted by Rian Johnson, which will have you on the edge of the seat... where you will also do a lot of laughing.

It's hard to say too much more about this joyful, ingenious romp without providing any spoilers, and I definitely don't want to do that...

But I will tell you that it features an hilarious car chase, and wonderful use of the Rolling Stones song Sweet Virginia in its closing moments.

Don't miss it.

(Image credits: A fine selection of posters at Imp Awards.)

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