Knives Out: From Daniel Craig’s detective to Chris Evans’ viral jumper - why was everyone talking about the modern whodunit?

As a Knives Out sequel is confirmed and thought to be filming ‘imminently’, find out why Rian Johnson’s contemporary twist on the classic whodunit genre was a surprise box office hit.

By Sophia Moir Published: 20 March 2020 - 9.50am
Film

Everyone's Talking About

Lionsgate

Knives Out was one of the biggest surprise box office hits of 2019, even earning itself an Oscar nomination.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film’s maker Lionsgate is hoping to make a franchise out of the modern whodunit format, fronted by the film’s lead detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig).

To celebrate the home entertainment release of Knives Out on Saturday, March 21, and as filming on Knives Out 2 is expected to start ‘imminently’, we explain the hype around the film, why everyone was talking about it and what we know about the sequel so far.

Knives Out: Why was everyone talking about it?

Knives Out Daniel Craig Lionsgate

It's a modern take on the traditional whodunit (SPOILER-FREE)

In a year that was largely dominated by sequels and franchises (the top five biggest films worldwide in 2019 were all Disney, or fronted by superheroes), Knives Out was an original idea that resonated with audiences.

Murder mysteries are hugely popular in TV and films, but the whodunit movie genre - part puzzle, part comedy - are more of a rarity. Even rarer are modern twists on the classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit, which Johnson achieved so flawlessly.

In Knives Out, renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday - so private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called in to investigate. 

The circumstances surrounding Harlan's death are mysterious, but there's one thing that inquisitive detective Benoit Blanc knows for certain - that everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect.

Blanc must sift through a raft of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death.

 

Fans flocked to cinemas to watch it over Christmas

The film’s late November release date helped it become a word-of-mouth hit. As Variety reported at the time, Knives Out became the de facto film of choice for families without young children over the Christmas 2019 season.

Lionsgate’s motion picture co-chairman Joe Drake told the industry website that the film had an even broader appeal than they had anticipated.

The film was given a 12A rating in the UK, so it became not only popular with couples, but for families with older teenagers too.

And revered by many did it become. Made on a budget of $40 million, the film has grossed a whopping $300 million worldwide - and counting.

Fans who loved the film encouraged their friends to go and see it over the festive period, when a lot of people have time off - making it the surprise, word-of-mouth hit that even Lionsgate wasn’t expecting.

Critics and awards voters raved about it too 

Knives Out was not only a surprise commercial success, but also a hit with critics. Johnson - who was previously most famous for writing and directing 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi - was awarded his first Oscar and BAFTA nominations for his Original Screenplay.

The film scooped three Golden Globe nominations too, for Best Comedy / Musical Picture, plus acting awards for its two leads, Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas (who’ll next be seen on-screen together in the latest James Bond movie, No Time to Die). 

Vulture’s movie critic Nick Allen said the film “proves to audiences that there are still, in 2019, numerous joys to be found in the classic whodunit film”. He lists the examples from Knives Out of “the salacious central crime, the storyteller’s crafty reveal of everyone’s motive, and all of the satisfying ways an investigation twists and turns the story’s events”.

Knives Out Daniel Craig still Lionsgate

Film journalist Nick De Semlyen from Empire agreed. He called Knives Out a "sly, wry and nimble homage to the murder mysteries of yesteryear, with a modern spin". He commended Johnson's seamless combination of classic murder mystery references - like a glimpse of Murder She Wrote on the television - mixed in with the modern day setting, including contemporary cultural and political references.

Calling out the star-studded cast, The New York Post's entertainment critic Johnny Oleksinski described the film as an "A-list-turned-slay-list party…  that’s a breath of fresh air for a genre caked in dust”. He added that "the fun in Knives Out is watching an ensemble of super-serious actors getting to misbehave".

A lot of the praise was for Daniel Craig's portrayal of detective Benoit Blanc. After spending more than a decade on the James Bond filming and promotional cycle, which he’s been openly negative about in the past, it was refreshing to see Craig ihaving a lot of fun in a role. No wonder he’s up for a sequel… 

 

Have you seen the ensemble cast?

Craig leads an impressive roster of actors that would have had the audience choosing sweet or salted popcorn before you could say ‘whodunit’.

Adopting a southern American drawl, Craig played private detective Benoit Blanc - who's called upon to investigate the film’s central murder - with aplomb. Craig took inspiration from civil war historian Shelby Foote for the accent, according to an interview the film’s writer and director Johnson gave with Rolling Stone.  

Johnson explained to Empire that Benoit Blanc was a homage to Agatha Christie’s most iconic creation, Hercule Poirot.

“Blanc has some of the elements of Poirot, in that he’s a bit self-inflated, but there’s a warmth to him which shines through with Daniel [Craig],” he said.

Knives Out cast Lionsgate

The A-list cast also includes Chris Evans, who was fresh off his final Marvel appearance as Steve Rogers / Captain America in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame - the American superhero he’s played for a decade.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Evans said that the unlikability of his Knives Out character, spoiled playboy Hugh 'Ransom' Drysdale, is what drew him to the role.

"I’m usually tasked with playing guys who are a little more noble, and this guy is a little bit more vile. It’s fun," he said.

The film also features Toni Collette as lifestyle influencer Joni Thrombey, a far cry from her most recent roles including kick-ass detective Grace Rasmussen in Netflix’s Unbelievable, sex-starved therapist Joy Richards in Wanderlust, and Annie in horror flick Hereditary.

The film’s star-studded cast also includes Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday, Halloween), Christopher Plummer (Beginners, A Beautiful Mind), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Nocturnal Animals), and Ana de Armas in arguably her biggest role to date.

 

Chris Evans’ viral cable-knit jumper

Of all the things that could possibly go viral from Knives Out, we're pretty sure that a specific item of clothing that one character wears was probably bottom of Lionsgate’s list. But that's exactly what happened.

During the film, Chris Evans' character Ransom Drysdale arrives at the family home wearing a cream cable-knit jumper. As The New Yorker reported shortly afterwards, said jumper became "an object of lust and fascination for the public".

Chris Evans jumper Lionsgate

The site reports that one traditional Irish woollen retailer saw a 150% in sales of one of its knit jumpers following the film’s release, while a budget alternative at American retailer L.L.Bean completely sold out in the ivory shade. CNN dubbed it the “sweater every guy needs this Christmas”.

Shortly afterwards, social media was ablaze with memes, including one fan Photoshopping the jumper onto that other social media phenomenon, The Mandalorian's Baby Yoda:

Lionsgate soon jumped on the hype, renaming the film's official Twitter account “Chris Evans’ Sweater Stan Account”, before giving away sweatshirts to fans featuring a still of Evans in his famous woolly jumper on the front.

Chris Evans himself ended up on the bandwagon, dressing his dog Dodger in a matching version of the jumper for Christmas Day:

Who knew something as traditional as a cable knit jumper could cause such a 21st century social media meltdown?

Knives Out 2: What we know so far...

Before Knives Out was even released in cinemas last year, and long before it became the surprise box office hit of the season, Johnson teased that he'd already had ideas for a potential sequel with Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc to the fore once more.

Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019, Johnson said in an interview with UPROXX: "I’ll tell you, the truth is I had such a great time working with Daniel Craig and I had so much fun doing this on every level, from writing it to making it. 

"I’ve never really been interested in doing sequels, but this, the idea of doing more of these with Daniel as his character, is not sequels. It’s just what Agatha Christie did. It’s just coming up with a whole new mystery, a whole new location, all new cast, whole new mechanics of the appeal of a mystery and everything. It’d be a blast."

Then, in January 2020, Johnson confirmed that he was working on the script for a sequel. He told The Hollywood Reporter that he was indeed developing a sequel centered around Benoit Blanc investigating a new case. 

Knives Out Daniel Craig detective Lionsgate

Shortly afterwards, in February 2020, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer confirmed that the sequel has been greenlit, telling Deadline that filming for Knives Out 2 was 'imminent'.

We do know that Daniel Craig is back on board as detective Benoit Blanc - and Lionsgate is hoping to create a franchise centered on Craig’s character. It’s something the company has had previous success with, spawning franchises including The Hunger Games, Twilight and John Wick. 

But if Johnson's idea is that Blanc investigates a whole new mystery in a new location, it would mean that it’s unlikely that any of the original Knives Out cast members who played the Thrombeys and the Drysdales would return for any follow-ups.

If filming for the movie can still kick off in 2020 as we’re led to believe, we'd expect a 2021 release in cinemas. Hopefully just before Christmas again so we can all come dressed in our cream, cable-knit jumpers...

Knives Out is available on home entertainment release from Saturday, March 21.

BT TV customers can buy Knives Out from the BT TV Film Store from that date.

It will be available to rent, and on DVD, from Monday, March 30.

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