Knives Out

Can the Agatha Christie formula be reworked into something successful in the 21st century?

Today’s Recipe Knives Out

Ingredients Well, it’s a dish prepared as a twisty-turny whodunnit, perhaps less directly indebted to the style of those late 19th- and early 20th-century mystery suppliers like Agatha Christie, but reflecting more contemporary approaches, specifically of films like Clue. Of course second-hand influence is still influence, and the familiar ingredients are all here – the outrageously silly name (and accent!) of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc recalls the many, many idiotic accents of Poirot across the years and gives a flavour of the original without the need for direct references. He’s been called in by a mysterious figure to investigate the death of author Harlan Thrombey (a suitably ripe Christopher Plummer), who apparently died by his own hand. As his family gather for the reading of the will there is suspicion of foul play, and of course everyone in the family ends up wanting their fingers in the pie – Harlan’s vast fortune – and of course everyone has a reason and motive to get it. Could it be the good-looking rake of a grandson played by cast-against-type Chris Evans, Hugh? (America’s Asshole!)

Or the cigarette-smoking family matriarch Linda, given laconic, sarcastic life by a fantastic Jamie Lee Curtis?  Or her sleazy husband Richard (an excellent Don Johnson, who is having something of a revival at the moment playing these characters)? Surely not teenage alt-right fuck-nut Jaeden? Maybe it’s… well, you get the idea. Oh and of course there’s the nurse Harlan actually leaves his fortune to, Marta, painting a whacking great target on her back. She, too, nurses (heh) her own secret, believing she killed Harlan in a stupid accident. But did she? And can the film mix all these constituent parts into a satisfying meal without simply regurgitating the past in an unpalatable pastiche?

Why Did You Dine Here? Word of mouth, mostly. It’s not my usual fare, but the reviews have been terrific and it’s good to step out of one’s comfort zone and nibble on something a bit different sometimes.

How Did It All Turn Out? Well, let’s not waste time snacking on the breadsticks – this was absolutely marvellous. All the based-on-the-trailer-alone jokes about Daniel Craig’s Foghorn Leghorn accent and the rather muted response to the menu fall away when actually consuming this. What we have here is extremely well-constructed, and follows all the correct approaches and techniques as they should be applied. Specifically, and remembering from the last Bond movie Spectre, Craig is great at being able to deliver laid-back comedy and he’s the perfect person to wear the chef’s hat here, guiding us through the twists and turns until we arrive at the thoroughly satisfying denouement. His isn’t a role that is completely front-and-centre but keeping him slightly off to one side, while the other family members gradually give themselves enough rope to hang themselves, is exceedingly effective and resisting the temptation to put a star of his magnitude more in the middle of events is a wise choice (as well as paying fealty to source material of course). This is, in fact, a terrific line-up, and there’s not a single bad – or even mediocre – performance here. True not absolutely every ingredient gets the chance to shine – neither of the teenagers contribute much of anything, and in particular Jaeden gets somewhat lost in the mix (he could be easily disposed of and we’d lose nothing). But for the rest, this is a perfectly assembled collection and everything delivers in exactly the way it should.

How Many Of These Have You Consumed? Not very many. Christie is not a style or writer I really have any time for – I find the genre trappings rather wearisome and much of it either too random or clever-clever to care about. It was, therefore, quite the surprise to discover just how delightful Knives Out actually is.

Would You Dine Here Again? Absolutely. This is definitely a dish which will benefit from being revisited. It’s in the nature of such things – there will be little flavours dropped in early on which you won’t pick up on a first go-through but which will gradually reveal themselves as a part of the grander recipe the more familiar you become with it. Some of the work here is very subtle too – when, at the end of the film, Linda discovers Richard is cheating on her we get to observe her anger, then the next time we see him he has a black eye. The implication is quite clear but it’s much smarter and more satisfying to have the execution done in this way rather than some big fisticuffs moment. Those are the kind of choices which are frequently made here – zagging instead of zigging – and they all pay off. The whole thing would collapse like a poorly-cooked soufflé if that final ending – the reveal, the payoffs – didn’t work but, like an elegant pastry, all the layers come together to construct something really rather perfect and which never fails to impress. One of the most satisfying experiences in quite some time – and ending on the Rolling Stones’s “Sweet Virginia” is simply the icing on the cake.

Pairs Well With – The Good Liar, unsurprisingly. A perfect starter and main course to be enjoyed together.

Scores On The Doors? 8.5 / 10

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