I just saw the news that actor Christopher Plummer has passed away aged 91. He had a simply stellar career that lasted for seven impressive decades. He’s truly one of the greats who leaves us with so many films to watch him in. I mean just looking through his credits, he was nothing if not prolific and he had immense staying power. I raise my glass to salute Christopher Plummer.
2010's, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, Comedy, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Jaeden Martell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Knives Out, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Murder Mystery, Noah Segan, Rian Johnson, Toni Collette
A hilarious and thrilling murder mystery, updated to the present and sporting one hell of a talented cast, Knives Out finds Rian Johnson at some of his most skilful and fun.
Harlan Thrombey( Christopher Plummer) is a wealthy but ageing crime author who is celebrating his 85th birthday. His wide, extensive family, of whom most are greedy, are there at his county mansion for the occasion. There is Harlan’s children; gloating businesswoman Linda( Jamie Lee Curtis), uneasy and timid until he has a drink inside him Walt( Michael Shannon) , plus Harlan’s bitchy, self-serving daughter in law Joni( Toni Collette) and her put upon daughter Meg(Katherine Langford). There’s also Linda’s crude husband (Don Johnson), and their man-child brat of a son Ransom( Chris Evans) , plus Walt’s troll child Jacob( Jaeden Martell) who delights in being a nasty young man. Most importantly, Harlan’s nurse Marta( Ana de Armas) is present but treated suspiciously by family when others aren’t looking, though they claim to hold her dear. The next day however, Harlan is discovered with his throat slit, the apparent result of a suicide. Two cops, Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner( Noah Segan) come to investigate as their soon becomes evidence of foul play afoot. Also on the case, after being mysteriously tipped off about it, is seasoned detective Benoit Blanc( Daniel Craig). He’s an investigator with his own way of doing things that often baffles others but often turns up intriguing possibilities. Sure enough, he sets about investigating and comes to believe that cruel intentions where at work in the demise. Marta, who seems to be the only person who treated Harlan like a human, has a condition where if she tells a lie, she vomits. This immediately puts her as an ally to the side of good or does it as this is one case in which nothing is what it seems? Blanc continues to investigate as the family fights, bickers and basically tears each other apart as they all want a part of the fortune. Marta is the one person who doesn’t seem interested in the money as she valued the companionship and respect she shared with Harlan. What spins out from all this is a most twisty case involving one hell of a dysfunctional family.
Rian Johnson is the man behind the camera and the pen and in both capacities, he doesn’t disappoint with this film. The sharp, scintillating script of cracking one liners and genuine mystery. Rian Johnson is clearly having a blast both paying homage to the murder mystery movies of yesteryear and giving it a contemporary update that is most entertaining. I find it hard to fault when someone is directing and crafting with this level of giddiness and panache. Though it covers many of the genre tropes we know and love, the underlying humour and knowing meta references to all matter of murder mystery TV shows and movies are most welcome and pretty cool to spot. Plus, Knives Out has a brilliant sense of mystery and unease as we try to discover the cause of untimely death for Knives Out truly breathes new life into the genre, and still has time to make comment on immigration, greed and the accountability of family. Thankfully none of this is overbearing or ham fisted, rather it is presented in a manner that flows along with the central mystery and just as entertainingly. Some lulls in the proceedings, (like the film maybe benefiting from a bit of a trim and certain characters not being given much to do) can be forgiven mainly because Knives Out twists and turns us and our expectations. It’s by and large a surprising film that breathlessly speeds along and misdirects you just when you think you’ve got a handle on it’s mystery. It’s a damn fine time that is purely entertaining and keeps you glued. The setting of the house is ace; with the large breadth of the domain and the various ways it is majestically shot with a certain old fashioned flair, really adding to the overall atmosphere of both lightness and darkness but never too overpowering as to detract from the crackerjack script. Plus, I can imagine that upon repeat viewings of Knives Out, you’ll notice something different each time. The music is a scintillating addition, with erratic strings and gorgeous piano conveying the craziness and underlying depth of the piece. Simply sensational is what the score from Nathan Johnson is .
Where Knives Out really hits the jackpot is in the talented cast. Daniel Craig heads up events with a thoroughly hilarious and eccentric turn as the celebrated detective mysteriously on the case. Using a surprising but superb Southern drawl and immensely kooky humour, Craig is having a ball and is one of the big standouts in Knives Out. Seriously, Craig is fantastic here in a role very different from Bond especially in its ability to be sharp as well as flamboyantly tongue in cheek . Matching him with a quiet dignity and decency is Ana de Armas in a role that is a showcase for her considerable talents. With her angelic face, arresting eyes and intelligent authenticity, de Armas is gifted a peach of a role and creates the beating heart of the narrative. Also, she blends areas of mystery within the part that still keep us guessing of her true involvement, though she’s definitely what you’d call the moral centre of Knives Out. I feel like de Armas is an actress of great promise if her work here is anything to go by and I hope she gets more successful roles like this one.
Chris Evans, playing very much against type, relishes being a nasty but hilarious piece of work who provides much in the way of snarky comedy and bratty, entitled antics. He gets some of the most scintillating lines to be found in Knives Out. Toni Collette, who has long been an actress I adore for her versatility, does it again as the vapid, shallow and grasping lifestyle guru who loves to brag about how great her life is. Collette bitches it up as this venal harpy who disguises her nastiness with a coy smile. Also getting some catty one liners and displaying a sense of authority under scrutiny is the ever excellent Jamie Lee Curtis( her comic timing and very sharp-witted presence is sparky and scene-stealing). Michael Shannon also has a lot of presence as the son who feels cit out of the family because of his weaknesses and inability to do things right. We feel some sympathy for the man who feels overlooked in the early scenes when Shannon gets to a level of morality, but Shannon truly comes alive when he’s required to be mercenary and underhand. Don Johnson creates a character of smarmy nastiness and underhand nature, who forms yet another snippet of a viper’s nest that is family.
Unfortunately, Jaeden Martell and Katherine Langford are both saddled with roles that don’t amount to much in the same way the two cops( Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) are largely filler and fail to stand out in an all star cast. But hell, that’s what happens when you have a big ensemble cast to contend with. And none of them are bad, just not utilised effectively. Veteran actor Christopher Plummer, whose very resume is enviable, still shows fantastic talent and fun in the key role of Harlan. We are shown a shrewd, cunning but generous to those who deserved it kind of man. His impact is felt as the story continues following his seemingly untimely demise.
Boasting one cracking ensemble of actors, a director on sizzling form and suspense mingling with laugh out loud comedy, Knives Out is a sly, devilish treat that gives an old genre an upgrade with results that would please the Grande Dame of Murder mystery, Agatha Christie.
- Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Selena St. George
- Judy Parfitt as Vera Donovan
- Christopher Plummer as Detective John Mackey
- David Strathairn as Joe St. George
- John C.Reilly as Constable Frank Stamshaw
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Dolores Claiborne is a sombre and compelling mystery headlined by a superb performance by Kathy Bates. Evocatively scored by Danny Elfman and featuring an interesting flashback structure, Taylor Hackford has created a chiller that leaves you guessing till the very end.
On a coastal town in Maine, hard-working and tough-talking housekeeper, Dolores Claiborne is accused of murdering her elderly employer Vera Donovan. The chief detective, John Mackey, heads the investigation into the suspicious death and harbours a desire to imprison the woman as he believes she murdered her abusive husband Joe 20 years ago. Soon after, Dolores’s daughter Selena arrives to support her mother. Selena is a succesful writer struggling with a drink problem and suspicious of the events surrounding both Vera’s death and her father’s. Dolores hasn’t seen her daughter for years and attempts to get through to her, even though her daughter is unsure of her mother’s plea of innocence. Through the use of a flashback structure, subtle incidents in both of the women’s lives are revealed and we begin to understand more about them and their strained relationship with each other. Is Dolores innocent of the crime? Or is she in fact a double murderer? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Kathy Bates, starring in her second adaptation of a Stephen King novel after her Oscar-winning role in Misery, fixes the attention and steals the show as the title character. She at first appears to be a stony, bitchy woman, but as the mystery begins to unravel, she is shown to be something quite different. She is a tough woman, wounded by life but not beaten yet and Bates embodies the worn-down but still resilient spirit of the title character effortlessly. It truly is a testament to Bates’s ability that we are never sure if Dolores is well and truly innocent of the crime until the finale. Ably supporting her is Jennifer Jason Leigh as the suspicious and sullen Selena, who is never truly convinced of her mother’s innocence but forced to confront her own painful past in the process. Christopher Plummer savours his role as a resentful but motivated detective who will stop at nothing to make sure Claiborne is imprisoned. David Strathairn, seen in flashback as the abusive husband of Dolores , helps set the secondary conflict in motion because of his menacing presence. Also seen in glowing flashback is the excellent Judy Parfitt, as the overbearing rich woman who becomes an unlikely ally to Dolores before her mysterious death. John C. Reilly also appears in a small role as a sympathetic constable investigating the case.
Visually, Dolores Claiborne creates a chilling atmosphere, shading the Maine town in which Claiborne resides in blue and grey. This is counteracted by luminous flashbacks, bathed in an almost sepia tone, showing the ugliness that lies beneath a happy facade. Danny Elfman’s melancholy score accentuates most of the scenes with a sombre and evocative expression of suspicion and delving into the shocking past of the main character for answers.
Dramatic, enigmatic and enthralling, Dolores Claiborne is a mystery that grabs you from the opening frame and refuses to let go.