EXCLUSIVE: The traditional Hollywood whodunit was never completely killed off (Robert Altman’s Gosford Park memorably revived its formula and formalities back in 2002, for instance; Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express success in 2017 will yield a sequel next year with Death on the Nile, while Clue is getting dusted off for a Ryan Reynolds revamp). But the once-popular genre was bumped off of most movie theater marquees decades ago. That only adds to the intrigue surrounding writer-director-producer Rian Johnson’s killer success with Knives Out, a cinematic tribute to Agatha Christie that deftly updates the classic all-star whodunit by rewiring the genre’s devices.
Johnson has a flair for changing the rules of a genre while inhabiting it, which can be engaging (as it was for the many film critics who championed Johnson’s neo-noir breakthrough Brick in 2005) or enraging (as it was for many Star Wars loyalists who continue to lambaste Johnson’s tradition-challenging The Last Jedi in 2017). For Knives Out, the challenge for Johnson was updating a genre that seems like an antique curio in this age of CG spectacle. “It’s seen as this timeless, little, out-of-place, gilded jewel box,” the filmmaker told Deadline last month during a stage interview at The Contenders New York.
The idea for the film had spent a decade in Johnson’s mind but he wrote the script in a seven-month span after finishing press for Last Jedi. Daniel Craig immediately signed on when he read Johnson’s script, which is cleverly constructed as a whodunit set up in the first act that shifts to a thriller in the second act and then returns to the mystery business for its third-act and the classic pay-off moment of revealing the culprit. The hybrid approach of the script was a winner with other stars, too, leading to the impressive ensemble (with Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and Christopher Plummer) and one of the most unusual suspects among this year’s adult dramas.
Check out the script here.