Review: Daniel Craig embraces comedy in 'Knives Out'
Rian Johnson's twisty and irreverent reinvention of the all-star detective thriller, Knives Out, arrives this week, and it's very, very good and very, very funny.
Its comic energy pinballs around the various narcissistic, avaricious and unprincipled members of the Thrombey dynasty, but it settles most often – and most unexpectedly – on Daniel Craig's gentleman detective, Benoit Blanc.
After more than a decade running around, giving bad lads a kicking as James Bond – a role which he's now officially confirmed he's definitely leaving after the next film, No Time To Die – Craig as the comedy fulcrum might come as a surprise. He's a solicitous but unnerving fish out of water, a Kentucky boy uprooted to a Massachusetts mansion who has to gain the trust of a family who are under suspicion, while preparing to flush one out as a murderer.
He's usually the sharpest person in the room, but at the same time he's a stooge. One of the most delicious things about Knives Out is that we find out very early on who actually dunnit, but Blanc and the rest of the characters are in the dark. Critical clues zip straight past him, and his revelatory analogies spin off at tangents and then collapse in on themselves.
It's a tough balance, but Craig has always been an underrated comic actor. If you saw Logan Lucky, you know that. His explosives expert Joe Bang was a gleefully gross bundle of hyper-masculine excess and intimidation, but Craig plays Blanc with a bright-eyed (literally – his absolutely gigantic blue eyes give the impression he's trapped in a Snapchat filter) vigour and laconic warmth.
It's quite a contrast to the dominant comedy mode of his Bond, who's sardonic and cynical. Take, for instance, his reply to M when he turns up unannounced at her house in Skyfall. She wants to know where he's been. "You didn't get the postcard?" he says. "You should try it sometime. Get away from it all. It really lends perspective."
Put that line in the mouth of assured smoothie Roger Moore, and you get an arch powerplay showing Bond's very much in command of things. With Craig, it's different. His instinctive recourse to brittle, defensive barbs is the outward expression of his self-loathing and fear of being rendered obsolete.
So for Craig to be so loose-limbed – so laugh-out-loud funny – is a change of gear. Most of his other roles have been very much Not A Laugh. Road to Perdition was not a laugh. Munich was not a laugh. Enduring Love, Sylvia and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo were not laughs.
As Bond, he's usually the man wrestling for control of a situation; in Knives Out, he's struggling to understand what the situation even is, and finding himself frustrated at every turn. He's not a buffoon, but at the same time he's not playing it straight while jokes happen around him: it's a beautifully pitched performance.
It all points to an unexpected but potentially brilliant tangent to Craig's post-Bond career. Johnson already has hopes of spinning the adventures of Blanc into a franchise. "I would love to," he said recently. "We'll see how this one does, you know. But if this movie does alright, if I can get together with Daniel every few years and do a new Benoit Blanc mystery? New location; new cast; new mystery. It'd be so much fun."
Whether Craig fancies leaping straight into another franchise immediately after leaving the biggest one in the world is debatable. Whatever happens, Knives Out will still stand as notice that Craig's always been far more than the tortured spy he's played for the last 13 years.