Long neglected by Hollywood, fans of the classic whodunnit are in for a treat with the release of Knives Out, a lovingly subversive ode to 1970s-style, all-star ensemble whodunnits, the most iconic of which were based on novels written by Agatha Christie, the all-time master of the form.
Written and directed by ardent Christie fan Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper), Knives Out brings together a (literal) murderer's row of talent for one of the most star-studded films of the year, one which also contains some sly observations about pertinent issues like white privilege and immigration.
The murder at its core is that of successful novelist Harlan Thrombey, played by screen legend Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music). Thrombey was the head of a large family of ingrates, each of whom had their own reasons for wanting him dead, most of which involve his money.
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Investigating his death is the eccentric and brilliant detective Benoit Blanc, played by Bond star Daniel Craig, sporting an eye-opening Southern accent that lands somewhere between Foghorn Leghorn and Rhett Butler.
TimeOut recently sat down with Johnson and (most of) the cast of Knives Out in Hollywood.
The Detective: Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc
Blanc is Knives Out's surprising take on Poirot and exists in the tradition of many classic screen detectives.
"I stole everything," says Craig with a po-faced grin. "Miss Marple. I stole from Columbo. I stole from Kojak. You name it, I nicked it."
Craig says he's been a fan of the whodunnit genre "for years and years": "Rian and I talked about references that we both knew. Sleuth , Peter Ustinov, Albert Finney [who played Poirot in 1974's Murder on the Orient Express] and also the event that those movies were. I think it's what we've managed to do. And I love it. It was one of the biggest joys of my career.
"This movie does something. I don't wanna label the politics in this movie because it's like, just go in and enjoy it. But then if you have a discussion afterwards, great. But just go and enjoy the movie."
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The Nurse: Ana De Armas as Marta Cabrera
Rising Chilean star De Armas (soon to be seen opposite Craig in upcoming Bond film No Time To Die) plays Harlan Thrombey's devoted caregiver, the daughter of undocumented immigrants. She suffers from a condition that means she vomits if she lies. Which is tricky when you're a murder suspect.
"I thought it was brilliant," De Armas says of Marta's condition. "It says so much about a character, being a Latina and an immigrant in the context of people with so much power and money. She's so loyal that she's literally incapable of lying. I thought it was a great metaphor."
De Armas admits to being intimidated by the film's star-laden cast.
"I know I have experience and I've been doing this for a long time, but compared to them, I felt like: 'What am I doing here?'"
The College Student: Katherine Langford as Meg Thrombey
The Australian star of Netflix breakout 13 Reasons Why plays Harlan's perpetual student grandaughter, the offspring of Harlan's widowed daughter-in-law Joni Thrombey, played by Toni Collette.
"Meg is on the side of wanting to be politically active," says Langford. "I think her heart is in the right place and she realises her privilege and her wealth, but you ultimately see her being tempted by what her family has."
Langford was thrilled that a fellow Aussie plays her mum. "Although I'm from Australia, I've never had the opportunity to work back home, so to be able to work with Toni was amazing."
The Teen Internet Troll: Jaeden Martell as Jacob Thrombey
Martell is a hoot as Harlan's other grandchild, the son of Walt Thrombey, played by Michael Shannon. Jacob is an alt-right internet troll with a hilariously misguided perspective.
"Sadly it is realistic," says Martell. "There are a lot of kids online who express their racist views and it's sad that they feel that way because I think they're sheltered from real cultures and being around people."
It's the second time Martell has played Shannon's son, following the 2016 sci-fi drama Midnight Special.
"Because he's such a serious and incredible actor, people don't expect him to be hilarious," Martell says of Shannon. "The things that he says are so clever and he's deadpan."
The Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Johnson says he has been reading Agatha Christie since he was a "kid".
"With this film I was thinking a lot about the movies I watched with my family: Death on the Nile , Evil Under The Sun , the ones with Peter Ustinov as [Christie's legendary detective, Hercule] Poirot.
"I remember being like: this is the most fun type of movie in the world! I feel like [in] making this, we gotta bring that back. It feels like something where the whole family can go see it.
"It's so appealing and there's so much fun you can have with it. And then on top of that, the idea of setting it in America in 2019 and using that to really engage with the culture on some levels, that seemed really interesting."
The Daughter: Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda Drysdale
Self-made businesswoman Linda is Harlan's most driven child, and arguably the only competent one. Competent but not necessarily good.
"What I like is that the movie is actually grounded in a political reality, an economic reality, which is Ana De Armas' character. This was remarkably real even though it was heightened. So you have this heightened sense and, at the same time, this depth of reality. And humour. So the combination of all three. It's cooking. So it's just really delicious."
The Trophy Husband: Don Johnson as Richard Drysdale
Johnson plays Linda's layabout husband.
"My character is the purest example of the family in that he does nothing," he says. "I always imagined him as like half-boozy all the time. His biggest job is trying to figure out how to fill his day."
Like Craig, Johnson says he's a fan of the genre that Knives Out is attempting to revive.
"I loved Sleuth and I loved the Agatha Christie/Hercule Poirot mysteries. This one is unique in that it's an Alfred Hitchcockian kind of thriller suspense murder mystery wrapped in a whodunnit. And funny."
The Trustafarian: Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale
Evans gleefully plays against type as Richard and Linda's spoiled son Ransom, who had a close but complicated relationship with his grandfather.
"I typically play magnanimous good guys and leaders, so this was a fun opportunity to play someone who is just out for himself," Evans has said of the role. "It was great to have that chance to stretch."
The rest of the family are jealous of Ransom's closeness with Harlan and Ransom seems to relish rubbing their faces in it. Evans is clearly having the time of his life.
Ensemble whodunnit Knives Out
Deep breath ... Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and many more.
In cinemas today
Five other classic whodunnits
Sirs Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier play splendidly off each other in this iconic two-hander featuring an impossible-to-replicate trick played on the audience. Like Knives Out's Harlan Thrombey, Olivier's Andrew Wyke is a successful crime novelist with an unhealthy interest in games. Adapted from Anthony Schaffer's Tony-winning play.
The Last of Sheila (1973)
Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd) teamed up with his actor friend Anthony Perkins (Psycho), a fellow game-lover, to write this wonderfully intricate whodunnit with an all-star cast including Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon and Raquel Welch.
Death on the Nile (1978)
Peter Ustinov's first turn as Hercule Poirot is arguably the greatest Agatha Christie adaptation ever filmed, and it features possibly her most satisfying murder plot. About to be remade by Kenneth Branagh as a follow-up to his 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express.
Evil Under The Sun (1982)
Ustinov returned to play Poirot (and would again four more times) for another sun-beaten tale of murder, this time at a seaside holiday resort. The finale features the greatest ever "Here's how it happened" speech in whodunnit finalé history.
Although sometimes perceived as being a bit too similar to Sleuth (which also starred Michael Caine), this murder mystery set in the world of theatre (adapted from Ira Levin's play) still stands as a bonafide whodunnit classic from the genre's most fruitful period. It's also a reminder of how much fun Christopher Reeve could be outside the Superman franchise.