The murder mystery genre is one that doesn’t see much attention on film. Sure, these kinds of narratives are all the rage on TV, but on film we don’t get that many and when we do get them, they’re usually adaptations, mostly of Agatha Christie. So hearing that we would be getting an original murder mystery was intriguing to me, and that intrigue was raised when I heard that it would one written and directed by Rian Johnson. Now Johnson is one of my favourite directors working today, Looper is one of the best sci-fi films of the decade, Ozymandias, one of the episodes of Breaking Bad he directed, is my favourite individual episode of TV, and whilst I understand not everyone was pleased with the direction he took, I loved what he did with Star War with The Last Jedi, and Johnson has continued his streak of great films here.
The film focuses on the investigation of the death of acclaimed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey, who died after his family were at the house for his 85th birthday party. The death is ruled a suicide, but an anonymous figure hires renowned private detective Benoit Blanc to investigate. Through his investigations, Blanc discovers the hidden secrets of the Thrombey family, whilst we also focus on Harlan’s nurse Marta and her relationship with the Thrombey family. Now it’s hard to properly talk about the plot without spoiling the film, especially since the trailers haven’t given much away. What Johnson does with this film is craft a great murder mystery that does a good job playing with the tropes of the genre and the level of knowledge the audience has for the genre. Johnson does this through great use of flashbacks that gives the audience more information about the plot than Blanc has, putting the audience one step ahead so we can understand the characters more. Johnson also does a great job at showing the thematic weight of the film, bringing in issues of class and race, showing how even the “nicest” members of the Thrombey family can have their true colours exposed by monetary issues and the evils of this system in the first place. There is a lot of heavy moments in the film, but Johnson doesn’t let these distract from the humour and fun that murder mysteries can provide, crafting an excellent script that, whilst a little bit too long, is a lot of fun and creates a lot of laugh out loud moments throughout.
The charm of the film is also helped by the cast. Daniel Craig, using a similar accent to the one he had in Logan Lucky, is a lot of fun as Blanc, showing off the intelligence of the character brilliantly, along with a bit of a scatterbrained element and the presence that Craig has adds a good bit of tension to some scenes. Chris Evans as Ransom Thrombey is a lot of fun playing a completely vile character. We’ve seen Evans play nice characters so much recently that we can forget that Evans can be great playing nasty pieces of work and a lot of the humour in the film comes from how much fun Evans is having playing this character. Ana de Armas as Marta meanwhile is the heart of the film, although to say why would spoil the film. What I will say is that her performance provides a solid anchor for the emotional weight of the film and generates a lot of sympathy throughout. For the rest of the Thrombey family, Jamie Lee Curtis is fun as Linda Drysdale, being more of a straight character in the film but adding some depth to her work, Don Johnson as Richard Drysdale steals the film whenever he’s on screen. He’s not quite as much of an awful person as Ransom, but Johnson shows the slimy, condescending nature of the character well. Toni Collette as Joni Thrombey is also a scene stealer, having this very vapid nature that suits the social media influencer nature of the character and she gets a lot of the best lines. Michael Shannon meanwhile is more subdued in his performance, having a quiet menace to his performance, especially in the second half of the film; Katherine Langford does good work as supposedly the nicest member of the family, at least until we see her true colours, and Jaeden Martell has the right presence for an alt-right troll. Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey meanwhile has a great presence, even when he’s not in the film, and the chemistry he has with the rest of the cast is excellent. LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan are fun as the police officers involved in the case and it’s always fun to see Riki Lindholme, M Emmet Walsh and Frank Oz in a film.
The technical elements of the film are impressive as well. The production design for Harlan Thrombey’s house is excellent, there being a clear geography to the house and its grounds and the design, with all the secrets and memorabilia in the film, creates a great atmosphere for the film. The atmosphere is also helped by the music which gives a good classic feel to the film. The direction and cinematography is excellent as well, using good use of the foreground and background to clue the audience in on certain details before the characters notice them, again putting the audience ahead of the characters which increases investment in the film.
Overall, Rian Johnson has crafted a great murder mystery, one that has a great deal of charm and fun, aided by an excellent script and a game cast that, whilst not all utilised effectively, are a lot of fun. Whilst I’ve not talked about half of the elements I wanted to as those would spoil the film, I still highly recommend this if you want a fun time at the cinema.
My Rating: 4.5/5