Knives Out review – Craig is likable, enigmatic, quirky, probing, and compassionate

Review of Knives Out – Armas’ resourceful, sensitive Marta is the heart of the film.

One of the lovely surprises about Knives Out is how entertaining and animated Daniel Craig can be when he isn’t tethered to the role of James Bond. Admit it, Bond/Craig has become awfully brooding and melancholy in recent years—the way he has been written and portrayed, it’s incredible that any woman would approach him or succumb to his charms—in fact, it’s more likely she would approach him with the air of a concerned social worker and ask “What’s wrong?” But here, in Rian Johnson’s clever homage to the drawing room mystery popularized by Agatha Christie (especially with inquisitive sleuths like Mrs. Marple and Hercule Poirot at the fore), Craig the actor seems rejuvenated. As private detective Benoit Blanc (complete with theatrical southern accent), Craig is likable, enigmatic, quirky, probing, and compassionate—qualities that all come into play as Blanc is asked (by persons unknown) to investigate the apparent suicide of wealthy, formidable mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).

While it initially seems that Thrombey’s death was self-inflicted (courtesy of the use of one of hundreds of knives in his collection), Blanc’s suspicions of foul play are aroused by the behavior of Thrombey’s family members, including self-made daughter/mogul Linda Drysdale (Jamie lee Curtis) Linda’s philandering husband Richard (Don Johnson), Thrombey’s spoiled grandson Hugh (Chris Evans), Thrombey’s daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette)—whose husband is deceased, but she remains “in the family”—and Walter Thrombey (Michael Shannon), who runs his father’s publishing company, but would like to be more autonomous. In fact, the only “family member” who seems above reproach is Thrombey’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), who is both Thrombey’s nurse and confidante—and who is physically incapable of telling a lie.

As written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out works both as an affectionate tribute and as a mild burlesque of  the genteel mystery genre—with a patina of social commentary thrown in. The Thrombey family is privileged and pampered, both grateful to Harlan for the luxuries they have been able to enjoy, while simmering with resentment –for various reasons. Johnson reveals certain family dynamics through some effective flashbacks (Helped in large part by Plummer’s incisive portrayal of the patriarch), but the film really gains traction just as it seems everything is revealed. Johnson shows real ingenuity in maintaining interest and compiling twist upon twist. Johnson also benefits from strong portrayals from the expert ensemble cast, especially the aforementioned Craig, Chris Evans (nicely putting captain America to bed), Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Ana de Armas. If Craig’s Blanc is the brains in Knives Out, Armas’ resourceful, sensitive Marta is the heart of the film.