While others are speculating about who will replace him as James Bond, Daniel Craig is quietly carving out a new, post-007 career. 2017’s Logan Lucky saw him play, suprisingly convincingly, a dodgy character from the American deep south in a somewhat dark comedy; his latest outing, the very dark comedy Knives Out sees him managing to stop just short of chewing the scenery as, again, a very peculiar southerner.
Knives out, then, is the story of Harlan Thrombey (a wonderfully warm and sympathetic Christopher Plummer), an elderly novelist with a repugnant brood of children who care less for him than they do for the fortune they believe they stand to inherit when he dies, which he does quite early in the film. The story then plays out, initially in flashbacks framed by interviews between Craig’s southern-gothic Sherlock Holmes-esque private detective Benoit Blanc, boasting an almost caricaturish Savannah accent, and the various members of the Thrombey household, and then in real time as Blanc, helped to varying degrees by LaKeith Stanfield’s Lieutenant Elliott, pieces together the hours before and after Harlan’s death.
It’s a fantastically intricately-plotted tale, with enough signposts for a moderately attentive viewer to figure out at least a couple of turns in advance where it’s headed. So while the story is entertaining and satisfying enough, a film like this is much more about the journey than any destination it might be headed toward. And what makes Knives Out as enjoyable as it is is its cast. Craig is clearly enjoying his new niche, but he’s quite handily supported by a rather magnificent cast. Jamie Lee Curtis is pleasingly vicious as Linda, Harlan’s daughter and wife of Richard (a surprisingly accomplished turn from Don Johnson), while Michael Shannon brings an enjoyable amount of gruff menace to his Walt, son and, apparently, chronic disappointment of Harlan. Toni Colette is as magnificent as one would always expect her to be as Joni, another wastrel child of Harlan, made-up and lit to look like she could be turned into a handbag post-mortem. And Chris Evans, slimy and devious as Ransom, manages to make himself significantly more unlikable than one is used to seeing him.
But it’s not enough just to have a parade of unpleasantnesses and call it a film. Succession made it work, and there’s a degree to which Knives Out’s Thrombeys call to mind the Roy family, but while Succession was played cold and dead straight, there’s much more archness and tartness to this family. This might, were it all the film relied on, become a tad one-note, but at the film’s heart is the relationship between Plummer’s Harlan and his nurse, the Paraguayan (or possibly Ecuadorean, or Brazilian…) Marta, played with warmth and delicacy by Ana de Armas.
It’s unclear why Daniel Craig, having redefined James Bond for this generation–there is a very real case to be made that Craig is the definitive Bond, standing over even the great Sean Connery–has now decided to reinvent himself as something from the American south, but he appears to have mad a sound decision. His southern-gentleman accent, one which brings to mind Kevin Spacey (but in a good way) in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, holds up well enough to pass muster even with Americans in the audience, and he manages to invest Benoit Blanc with enough of a subtle malice and mystery that what could come across as hopelessly overdone is, instead, hugely entertaining.
And hugely entertaining, then, is what Knives Out manages to be. It’s an odd film, to be sure, but a very enjoyable, and highly recommended, one.