Lakeith Stanfield

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

 

Sorry to bother you

13/12/18

Boots Riley is a new name to me but, on the merits of this, his first feature, it’s one I expect to hear a lot more of in the near future. Sorry To Bother You is a quirky slice of satire and, in many ways, a polemic – a powerful critique of the current state of American society. Riley, who in a recent interview proudly announced that he is ‘a communist,’ clearly has a healthy distrust of big corporations and their ethos of rampant greed. He’s also more than happy to state his dissatisfaction with the situation.

The action occurs in a near-future Oakland, where a corporation called WorryFree offers workers food and board in exchange for a lifetime of unpaid servitude – and where the most popular show on TV is one where the participants are ritually humiliated and beaten to a pulp. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lives in his Uncle’s garage, where he shares the bills with his performance artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Constantly strapped for cash, but understandably reluctant to take the WorryFree route, Cassius seeks a post at telemarketing company, RegalView, where he is told to ‘stick to the script’ and where he will be paid a commission on every sale he makes.

At first he struggles to stop his clients from hanging up on him, but then veteran employee, Langston (Danny Glover) gives him a bit of free advice. ‘Use your white voice, bro,’ Langston urges him, ‘and things will improve.’ Cassius prevaricates for a while, but soon finds he has a real flair for impersonating a white man’s voice. It’s not long before he’s closing many profitable deals and is being groomed to take the gold elevator up to the top floor, where the ‘Power Dealers’ rule.

But when co workers, Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun) decide to form a pressure group with the intention of securing a fairer deal for RegalView’s workforce, Cassius finds himself with a difficult choice to make…

What starts as an irreverent and amusing farce takes a much darker turn when Cassius opts to ride that elevator to the top floor. Up there, he is the guest at a lavish party thrown by RegalView’s enigmatic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who pressures him into performing a rap routine (something he has no talent for), and who then offers him a vast amount of money to head up a brand new initiative…

As I said earlier, this is a debut film and since Riley’s previous experience has been as a musician, STBY occasionally looks a little rough around the edges. There are some poorly lit nighttime sequences and occasional bits of character interplay that don’t really develop into anything – but there’s no doubting the power and passion fuelling this story. A scene where Cassius spills the beans about RegalViews secret plans only to see the companies shares go through the roof is, in the era of Donald Trump, all too believable. Stanfield and Thompson are beguiling in the lead roles and, as you might expect, there’s a powerful soundtrack to push along the action.

Slightly deranged and very, VERY original, this is the opening salvo in what could prove to be a powerful new voice in contemporary cinema. It’s well worth checking out.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney