Christopher Plummer

Knives Out

25/11/19

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is an Agatha Christie-inspired whodunnit for our times. Although reliant on the tropes and clichés of the murder-mystery, the delivery makes this a thoroughly modern thriller.

The cast is stellar. Christopher Plummer is Harlem Thrombey: a successful eighty-five-year-old novelist with a penchant for games and a vast fortune to bequeath. The morning after his birthday party, he is found dead, his throat cut in an apparent suicide. But just as the police (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Began) are ready to finalise the cause of death, enigmatic private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) turns up, hired by an anonymous client to investigate further.

Thrombey’s children and grandchildren are all present, and it turns out each of them has a motive for his murder – although I won’t reveal the details here. His daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), is a forbidding businesswoman, visiting with her husband, Richard (Don Johnson), and their feckless son, Ransom (Chris Evans). Thrombey’s son, Walt (Michael Shannon), is a gentle soul, but a hopeless case, incapable of making it on his own. He has a wife too (Riki Lindome), and an alt-right-leaning teenager (Jaeden Martell), who spends his time perusing questionable websites on his phone. And finally, there’s Thrombey’s yoga-and-crystal-loving daughter-in-law, Joni (Toni Collette), and her student daughter, Meg (Katherine Langford).

As you might expect of the genre, the setting is a remote country house, and so – of course – there are staff too: housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) and nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), both of whom prove central to the plot.

There’s an appealing playfulness here, with zingy dialogue and witty repartee, and the performances are as sprightly and assured as you’d expect from these marvellous actors. But the plot is a little predictable: there are no real surprises here, mainly because the various ‘twists’ are too heavily signalled. The middle third sags under the weight of a lengthy red herring, where the focus drifts from the larger-than-life characters and their shenanigans, following instead a more muted, less engaging thread.

Nonetheless, this is a lively and eminently watchable film – just not the masterpiece I hoped that it would be.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

 

All the Money in the World

 

06/01/18

You have to admire Ridley Scott. At eighty years old, he seems to have levels of energy and commitment that would put younger directors to shame. Having emerged from the disappointment that was Alien Covenant, he threw himself headlong into his next project, the stranger than fiction tale of the abduction of Paul Getty III, nephew of multi-millionaire J Paul Getty. The film was in post-production when the allegations about Kevin Spacey (who was playing J Paul Getty) emerged, and Scott went to the unprecedented lengths of reshooting all of his scenes with a new actor, Christopher Plummer. The fact that Plummer is now being talked up for Oscar nominations speaks volumes about how successfully he has been assimilated into the final product.

It’s 1976 and sixteen year old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is wandering around Rome, enjoying life, when he is unceremoniously bundled into a van and driven to a remote location in the wilds of Italy. His mother, Gail (Michelle Williams in her latest onscreen transformation), receives a phone call saying that the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of seventeen million dollars and that Gail should approach her father-in-law for the money.

But there’s a problem. J Paul Getty isn’t your usual sort of millionaire. He may be the richest man in history but he still launders his own underwear when he stays in hotels and has even had a coin-operated red telephone box installed in his British mansion for whenever guests wish to use the phone. He outright refuses to pay the ransom and brings in Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to handle negotiations with the kidnappers. As time slips by, Paul’s situation begins to look more and more precarious… and it’s only a matter of time before blood is shed.

Screenwriters David Scarpa and John Pearson have crafted a sprawling, but fascinating story, with details so weird that they really couldn’t pass for fiction. Okay, so some elements have been tweaked for the sake of building suspense – the conclusion of the case was certainly not as nail-bitingly dramatic as it’s portrayed here and occasiona liberties have been taken with the chronology of the story – but it all makes for a compelling narrative and, naturally, Scott makes every frame look gorgeous. Michelle Williams seems to completely reinvent herself from film to film and Plummer is good enough to make you stop caring what sort of a job Spacey might have made of so meaty a role.

Ironically of course, the reshoots have helped to bring this film to wider public attention and, judging by the packed afternoon screening we’re attending, All the Money in the World is destined to do a lot better than its predecessor. It absolutely deserves to.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney