(Directed by Rian Johnson) (2019) (Foxtel)
Paterfamilias Christopher Plummer (in a customary sleek, silky, telephoned-in performance) has gathered the family, hinting at some amendments to his testamentary dispositions (shades, but only shades, of Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas). When he turns-up dead in his cramped but sumptuous study, throat cut, suicide appears likely, at least to the police in charge of the case. But wait! What’s James Bond doing in the background, tinkling at the piano? It’s private sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, joining the Honour Board of British actors undone by attempting a southern drawl in public: think Michael Caine in Hurry Sundown or Richard Burton in The Klansman). Blanc has been summoned by persons unknown (perhaps the casting directors wanted to remain anonymous) and he has a fine time carrying out some Columbo-style harassment of the old man’s nurse, ‘Go’ partner and possible amanuensis, Marta (Ana de Armas, as incongruous here as was Pilar Estravados in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas).
The family were all, of course, a disappointment to the old fellow, and played accordingly to type (out of a decent cast, Don Johnson appears the only one to be having a bit of fun with the role) and we have to roll around the inanities of will-reading, recriminations, reconstructions, interminable interviews, the odd car-chase, and various twists before the inevitable (and somewhat incomprehensible) exposition.
Stylistically, the film owes a lot to Sleuth, Deathtrap and Clue, but there’s not much of any of those in the way of substance. This film has proved popular, just as the Masque of the Red Death was during an earlier plague. Hopefully not-untalented film makers will resist the temptation to farrago a sequel: after all, the film contains its own two best critics, who express themselves far more eloquently here than we can. After the aforesaid car chase, detective Lakeith Stanfield (seen to advantage in Get Out and less so in Sorry To Bother You) describes it as the silliest ever. And Marta cannot stop vomiting. Knives Out is neither classic whodunnit nor comedy-thriller; neither police procedural nor dramatic chase; neither drawing-room melodrama nor genre spoof. It is refreshing to have a film that defies categorization, if you’re a librarian: but to most viewers, a film that truly does not know what it is supposed to be must go back in its box.