Starry cast shine in tongue-in-cheek whodunit
Film review: Knives Out (12A), 7.5/10
After the creative misstep of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson returns to the detective genre, which served him well for his award-winning 2005 debut feature Brick, to pay loving tribute to Agatha Christie with a tongue-in-cheek country house whodunit.
Knives Out assembles a starry cast of prime suspects including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Michael Shannon and cleverly conceals the murderer's identity till a classic final act revelation.
Johnson's script lovingly embraces the tropes of a murder mystery while fishing for red herrings, assembling the accused in a wood-panelled drawing room for a private detective's pithy summation replete with overlapping flashbacks.
Curiously, the film's weakest link is the brilliant mind in charge of the case: a dashingly tailored sleuth played by Daniel Craig with a hammy accent fried in the same Deep South swamp as Steven Soderbergh's 2017 caper Lucky Logan, in which Craig played a heavily tattooed convict.
It's a self-consciously showy turn a la Hercule Poirot without the Belgian's psychological and emotional complexity.
Supporting performances are more convincing including Collette's droll lifestyle doyenne and Ana de Armas's nurse, who is the only member of the household to shed tears when her master shifts his mortal coil in suspicious circumstances.
Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) presides over a motley crew of dysfunctional relatives, who have their beady eyes on his vast fortune.
These self-serving loved ones include his daughter Linda (Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), son Walter (Shannon) and his wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Collette) and the three grandchildren: Ransom (Evans), Megan (Katherine Langford) and Jacob (Jaeden Martell).
The cantankerous old coot invites his kin to an 85th birthday party at his large mansion but festivities are cut short by arguments and recriminations.
Later that same night, after doting carer Marta Cabrera (de Armas) has given Harlan his medication, the novelist apparently commits suicide by slitting his throat with a ceremonial dagger.
Detective Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) attend the scene to deduce the chain of events leading to the homeowner's grim demise.
Quixotic private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) hovers in the background, closely observing family members including Great Nana (K Callan).
'I would like to request that you all stay until the investigation is completed," purrs the detective as he gathers evidence to paint a very different picture of Harlan's final moments.
Knives Out enjoys pulling the rug from under us as characters' ulterior motives are exposed with flashes of directorial brio. Pieces of an elaborate puzzle slot satisfyingly into place as the ensemble cast have fun with their colourful roles, concealing deviousness and greed behind angelic smiles.
Many suspects fall from grace with a thud but Johnson's entertaining picture stays firmly upright.