Benoit Blanc (Knives Out)

Created by Rian Johnson

“When people get desperate, the knives come out.”

Screenwriter and director Rian Johnson has already seriously mucked around with the mystery genre back in his feature film debut Brick, which transported the classic hard-boiled/film noir detective flicks of the forties to a contemporary high school in the endless sun-bleached suburban sprawl of Southern California.

Now, with Knives Out (2019), he takes on private investigators from the other end of the spectrum: the film is nothing more than a cock-eyed Valentine to the classic, Golden Age mystery, where some colourful, gentlemanly sleuth (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot immediately springs to mind) attempts to solve a seemingly impossible murder by interrogating a large, unruly bunch of well-mannered but equally colourful suspects, before ultimately rounding them all up to name the villain.

And so we have “renowned” private investigator BENOIT BLANC, he of the biscuits-and-gravy Southern accent and king-sized ego (delightfully played by Daniel “Shaken, not Stirred” Craig). He’s got a whole roomful  of suspects in a large country manor somewhere in Massachusetts to annoy, with his odd pretensions and his in-your-face questioning. It seems that world famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has slit his own throat the evening after his 85th birthday party, an apparent suicide, after dumping on all his “loved ones” at dinner. And what a bunch of “loved ones”! This band of relatives, in-laws and outlaws is played by a stellar cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Chris Evans. Plummer, even in his limited screen time, is always a joy to watch, and Ana de Armas, as Marta, the old man’s nurse, is a hoot–as is her inability to tell a lie without vomiting.

Enter the local police and the piano-tinkling Blanc, who’s been hired by persons unknown to investigate the strange death. Suffice it to say that everyone is a suspect, that the zingers and bon mots fly back and forth (Blanc is quickly dismissed by one of the suspects as “CSI KFC”), and a considerable amount of scenery is chewed as the red herrings and lies pile up. But it’s the attention to detail, Johnson’s obvious affection for the genre and the absolute glee the entire cast seems to be having that really brings this puppy home.

I liked it.

Of course, it wasn’t completely logical, and there are plot holes even Reed Farrel Coleman’s cat could spot, but these types of convoluted country house murder mysteries rarely make much sense, anyway (“Let’s give murder back to the people who commit it for a reason.”). And it was nice to see any “mystery” movie that actually contained a mystery of any sort. 

UNDER OATH

  • “Ultimately, Knives Out accomplishes what it sets out to do. That might sound like faint or even damning praise with another film or in another genre, but here, it’s meant as the sincerest of plaudits. Johnson has constructed a tightly plotted, superbly acted “escape room” for both his characters and the audience to explore and puzzle over. Most will find the two hours and 10 minutes it takes to solve well worth the price of admission.”
    — Paste
  • “… one of the most purely entertaining films in years. It is the work of a cinematic magician, one who keeps you so focused on what the left hand is doing that you miss the right. And, in this case, it’s not just a wildly fun mystery to unravel but a scathing bit of social commentary about where America is in 2019. Great mystery writers throughout history have dissected class in ways that were palatable to audiences looking for escapism, and Johnson is clearly doing that here too, using a wonderfully entertaining mystery structure that would make Agatha Christie smile. Directing a wildly charismatic cast who are all-in on what he’s doing, Johnson confidently stays a step or two ahead of his audience, leaving them breathless but satisfied at the end.”
    — Brian Tallerico (rogerebert.com)
  • “A delicious throwback to the all-star whodunit, this juicy comedy thriller is a treat from start to finish, which should make it a sizable hit for Lionsgate.”
    — David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter)

THE EVIDENCE

  • Marta: I’ve never been to a will reading before.
    Blanc: You’d think it’d be like a game show, but think of a community production of a tax return.
  • The game is afoot. Eh, Watson?
    — Blanc to Marta
  • ” It describes the path of a projectile determined by natural law. Et voila,my method. I observe the facts without biases of the head or heart. I determine the arc’s path, stroll leisurely to its terminus and the truth falls at my feet.”
    — Blanc
  • “Best judge of character is a dog. I’ve found that to be true.”
    — Blanc
  • ” I spoke in the car about the hole at the center of this donut. And yes, what you and Harlan did that fateful night seems at first glance to fill that hole perfectly. A donut hole in the donut’s hole. But we must look a little closer. And when we do, we see that the donut hole has a hole in its center – it is not a donut hole at all but a smaller donut with its own hole, and our donut is not a hole at all!”
    — Blanc

TRIVIA

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played the lead in Brick, Rian Johnson’s other mystery spoof, does a voiceover here as Detective Hardrock on a television show that Marta is watching. In fact, Gordon-Levitt has appeared in all five of the films Johnson has directed.
  • Daniel Craig supposedly based Blanc’s accent on Southern historian Shelby Foote.

INSPIRED BY

  • According to the IMDB, Rian Johnson claimed that the following films and playsserved as inspiration for Knives OutAgatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun (1982), Murder by Death (1976), Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (1978), The Last of Sheila (1973), Deathtrap (1982), Clue (1985), Gosford Park (2001), The Mirror Crack’d (1980), Something’s Afoot (1977), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Private Eyes (1980), and Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019).

FILMS

  • KNIVES OUT Buy the DVD  Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2019, Lionsgate)
    140 minutes
    Tagline: “Hell, any of them could have done it.”
    Written by Rian Johnson
    Directed by Rian Johnson
    Cinematography by Steve Yedlin
    Music by Nathan Johnson
    Starring Daniel Craig as BENOIT BLANC
    Also starring Christopher Plummer, Ana de Armas, Lakeith Stansfield, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette,  Chris Evans, Katherine LangfordJaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, M. Emmet Walsh
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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