Although clearly inspired by the world and works of Agatha Christie, Knives Out is an entirely original who-dunnit, in which Danial Craig plays private detective Benoit Blanc. The film starts with esteemed murder-mystery writter, Harlan Thrombey, gathering his extended family in his gigantic mansion to celebrate his 85th birthday. One by one, it transpires, the members of the family quarrel with Harlan; by morning he is dead. The local police rule the death a suicide, but someone has anonomously contacted the great Benoit Blanc to investigate; everything is clearly not as it seems.
All the classic elements of a Christie murder mystery are there: the huge house that resembles a Cludo board, the various family members, each with their own motives, the arrogant but brilliant detective with a ludicrous accent, and the Mexican nurse who cannot help but vomit if she is made to tell a lie. Whenever the film flirts with cliche it does so knowingly; what could be formulaic, actually feels fresh, new and exciting. The plot, with multiple loops and genuinely unexpected twists just works. You get the impression that the writers understand the physics of who-dunnits. The final reveal relies only on facts that were shown to the audience in the first half of the film, and clicks satisfyingly into place once it is explained, but is only obvious in retrospect. The film is dazzlingly clever, but never tries to be too clever. Rather than trying to reinvent the genre the film simply tries to make an excellent example of it, and succeeds.
The film looks gorgeous; in particular the sets are meticulously designed. The cast are all excellent: Toni Collette and Jamie Lee Curtis are both razor sharp, as is Daniel Craig, but the relatively unknown Ana de Armas steals the show as the young Mexican nurse to the aging Harlan. The subplot here, that becomes increasingly important, that she is the daughter of illegal immigrants gives the film a more serious thread, to what otherwise is an unashamedly fun and frivolous film.
The recipe for Knives Out is one that should be followed more often: take a truly original story; put together a start-studded cast in which there are 7 or 8 great actors, all of whom have deep and interesting characters, a beautiful design; a clever but unpretentious plot; and some deeper, but subtly explored themes. All of which makes for a film which is beautiful, thought-provoking and most importantly compelling good fun. Part of me wants to see more of Benoit Blanc, but a bigger part hopes that this film is left as a single stand-alone piece of work, that can be rewatched many times.