Knives Out: How Rian Johnson Revamped The Murder Mystery For The 21st Century

“It is not a doughnut hole at all, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not a hole at all”.

Daniel Craig’s unorthodox private investigator Benoit Blanc there, trying to unravel the mystery at the heart of Rian Johnson’s magnificent whodunnit Knives Out, which is released on home entertainment today.

And, if you haven’t had the pleasure yet, now is the perfect time to immerse yourself in the mystery surrounding a wealthy Boston family. It’s truly delicious.


Reviving the murder mystery genre seemed like a herculean task for any director, let alone Johnson who was still (undeservedly) the human personification of ‘the other’ to a portion of the Star Wars fan-base after The Last Jedi, but in fact, it was probably the juice the filmmaker needed to prove those people wrong. And, boy, did he.

In a cinema landscape – for the most part – where unless your film is connected to a massive universe, or based on pre-existing material, there is seemingly not a chance it will get noticed.

No-one wants anything original goes the thought pattern, especially something that is trying to revive a genre that has been lying dormant for many years (Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express adaptation notwithstanding), and yet, Johnson’s vision and impeccable writing fooled us all in more ways than one to become an absolute sensation of. And rightly so.


Knives Out tells the story of the Thrombey family – a well-to-do, white, upper-class family whose wealth has come from patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer) whose book empire is worth millions.

His family has become fractured over recent times with everyone trying to take a slice of the company’s huge pie for their own, which is all further exacerbated when Harlan commits suicide the night of his birthday.

Detective Blanc, however, thinks that foul play is afoot, and there may be more to his death than first thought.


The seemingly never-ending line of suspects is just the tip of the iceberg for the intrepid detective. Could Harlan have been killed by his grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) with whom he had a fiery exchange on the night in question?

Could ‘Insta-famous’ daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) have done it to enhance her brand? Could it be whiny son Walt (Michael Shannon) who wants nothing more than to hold the deeds to the publishing contracts, and allow Netflix to start making multi-million dollar adaptations of the books?

And what of Marta (Ana de Armas), his live-in nurse and confidante? Has she used her immigrant status (illegal in her mother’s case) and financial hardships to manipulate the old man or, better yet, used her position to get close to him and strike him down for the riches? The family thinks so given her standing, but as you will discover, nothing is what it seems.


With most films of this ilk, everything is about the misdirect and Johnson is an absolute master at filmmaking trickery and deceit, feeding the audience exactly what it wants, before pulling the rug from underneath them, and giving them exactly what they didn’t know they wanted.

In the case of The Last Jedi, he subverted expectations of what Star Wars could be but in doing so, didn’t give some fans what they wanted: the same.

With Knives Out, however, he is able to break free of convention and expectation, and follow through with his own dastardly plans.


Within the first act, we know exactly the how/why/when/who of the film’s whodunnit but really – and we should have known better – we actually know nothing, and such is Johnson’s meticulously crafted screenplay, we are still sucker-punched when the revelations begin later on.

This is an even more daunting task given modern audiences, in general, have shorter attention spans and would rather have something ‘big’ jolt them awake than have to pay attention to the plot, but that’s where his phenomenal casting comes into play.

Many of them are cast against type. Craig is no James Bond, Evans’ Captain America idealism shattered behind vileness, while the others revel in playing in Johnson’s alternate sandbox, and each and every one of them exemplary.


Indeed, Knives Out slices deeper than many other attempts to bring back the Agatha Christie-inspired mystery by layering in many themes of the modern world to give it a real re-imagining.

It tackles the aforementioned immigration debates, social and economic issues of white privilege (which are more prescient through Trump’s presidency), politics, fake news, the impact of social media and celebrity culture, diversity, mental health and the use (and misuse) of power and class.

There’s something for everyone in Knives Out, whether they are lovers of classic archetypal films of this genre, or want something a little more current and daring.


Johnson’s melting pot of humour, thrills, murder and living in a post 9-11 America (and indeed the world as a whole) is an absolute joy from beginning to end, and when we all need something to soothe our souls a little in the current climate, we can think of nothing better than to give this a spin, whether for the first time or the hundredth.

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Scott J. Davis

Scott J. Davis

Contributing Writer

Scott is a freelance film and TV writer mainly found at HeyUGuys, where he covers both red carpets and junkets for the site. Scott can also be found writing for Fandom, Cineworld, The People's Movies and more when he's not in a dark screening room...