Knives Out

This isn’t so much a whodunnit as a whodunnwhatandhow. 

Christopher Plummer (yes, he’s still alive) plays Harlan Thrombey, a rich old man who dies suddenly on the night of his 85th birthday party, in his gothic mansion surrounded by his family of hangers-on who all have designs on his wealth.  Is it an accident, a suicide, or murder? 

It’s a classic Agatha Christie-type mystery, in an American setting, but otherwise faithful to the genre.  In fact it nods to the Grande Dame in various amusing post-modern ways.  The victim is a successful crime-writer, for one thing.  For another, there is a brilliant, eccentric private detective with a funny French name called in to investigate.  He’s Benoit Blanc, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hercule Poirot if ever I saw one.  He’s played by Daniel Craig in a departure from his usual stony-faced hard man persona.  In place of Poirot’s gallic flair and fastidiousness we get exuberantly old-fashioned southern charm.  (At one stage one of the suspects declares he’s not going to fall for ‘that Foghorn Leghorn good-ole-boy bullshit’!)   

Who invited Blanc to come in and investigate?  Even he doesn’t know; the invitation came by anonymous letter.  He (and we) have to wait till the end to find out who and why. 

True to the genre, the servants play a crucial role, especially the old man’s faithful Latino nurse played by Cuban-American actress Ana de Armas.  In an interesting plot device, her character is unable to tell a lie without vomiting.  We just know this will come into play later on. 

We also know that Great Nanna is there for a reason.  This very old lady – she must be over a hundred as she’s Harlan’s mother – is the only character apparently not swept up in the drama of her son’s death.  She’s ancient, demented, neglected and mostly ignored.  But not by Blanc….

She’s played by the woman who plays Clark Kent’s mother in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  She’s nearly ninety in real life, and Wikipedia tells me she once appeared in an episode of Route 66, a TV show so old that I was too young to be allowed to watch it!

The rest of the ensemble cast is mostly A-list, playing members of a family who are all more or less unloveable.  Jamie Lee Curtis is the imperious real-estate agent daughter who fancies herself the new matriarch, Don Johnson is her cheating husband, Michael Shannon is the son recently fired by Thrombey as manager of his publishing company, Chris Evans is a spoiled playboy grandson, Toni Collette is a venal, new-agey daughter-in-law who’s been pocketing her daughter’s college fees and asking Grandpa Harlan for more.  Granddaughter Meg is played by young Aussie newcomer Katherine Langford.  Her cousin Jacob, played by Jaeden Martell, is possibly the least likeable of all the family.  As if being an alt-right sympathiser isn’t bad enough, he’s a sneering narcissist who’s constantly on his phone!  

Can’t say much more without spoiling the ever-roiling, ever-twisting plot, except to say that it’s fast-paced, funny, ingeniously plotted and thoroughly enjoyable.