And it’s a real mix of genres for Orange Thursday this week
- Knives Out (2019) – it’s Agatha Christie territory, as a noted author is murdered and only an eccentric detective can work out
- Angel Has Fallen (2019) – Gerard Butler saves another president’s life, only to be suspected of having tried to kill him, resulting in urban warfare
See you after the ads and the trailers.
Knives Out (2019)
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey dies just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc arrives at his estate to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Thrombey’s untimely demise.
There is a very long and very venerable tradition of murder-mysteries set in country houses, in which an eccentrically accented detective interrogates witnesses, sifts through the evidence and eventually reveals who committed the murder to an assembled group of onlookers.
There’s a tradition not quite as long-lasting but almost as venerable of movies in this vein that generally involve all-star casts delivering a few lines each and generally having lots of fun doing so. My favourite of these is (because I am a man of taste) Murder By Death (1976) – yes, even in 1976, the genre was so old, it was up for pastiche.
Knives Out is very much a callback to that genre and while it’s clearly a knowing affair that knows you know all the ins and outs of murder-mysteries, it’s more a love-letter to the genre than mockery, never straight out sending it up, merely recreating it for a modern age.
The eccentric detective of the piece is the ‘Kentucky fried’ accented Daniel Craig, whose private investigator has been hired by… well, that’s a mystery in itself. But he’s to help the police investigate the crime and syphon through the various children and grandchildren of deceased author Christopher Plummer, all of whom have a motive for killing him: wastrel grandson Chris Evans, self-made daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, her husband Don Johnson, embittered son Michael Shannon, Gwyneth Paltrow-alike Toni Collette and nurse Ana de Armas.
Knives Out remains wryly amusing throughout and although it does at times subvert the genre – as you might expect from Last Jedi director Rian Johnson – by having (spoiler alert) Daniel Craig’s detective largely not being that great , for example, the movie obeys its rules. We get given clues and if you are so motivated, you can try to work out whodunnit, without it being plucked ex nihilo.
Indeed, while I can’t say I put all the clues together, I did at least notice 95% of them, so if you’re smarter than me – pretty much a given, I’d have thought – you could well solve the crime yourself.
Slightly problematically, its cast of would-be murderers are largely caricatures rather than characters, even semi-prime suspect de Armas, whom Craig takes with him Columbo-style so is more or less the movie’s focus. That means like so many whodunnits, it’s less about people, more or about characters and actors fulfilling plot functions.
Still, everyone seems to having a great time and if you enjoy the genre, you’ll probably enjoy this at several levels, both as a plain old whodunnit and as a playful examination of the the genre’s rules.
Angel Has Fallen (2019)
Authorities take Secret Service agent Mike Banning into custody for the failed assassination attempt of US President Allan Trumbull. After escaping from his captors, Banning must evade the FBI and his own agency to find the real threat to the president. Desperate to uncover the truth, he soon turns to unlikely allies to help clear his name and save the country from imminent danger.
The …Has Fallen movies are always a slightly odd affair. On the one hand, they’re ridiculously stupid and frequently offensive, particularly with their attitudes to anyone not American.
On the other, they’re often smarter than you think they’re going to be and they’re rarely formulaic. Sure, Olympus Has Fallen was basically Die Hard in the White House – Gerard Butler has to work by himself against an army to save the President. But London Has Fallen switched things up to be pitched urban assault, with Butler both evading an army in an urban environment and also leading a special forces assault against another army.
Here, things change yet again, with Butler on the run again, but out in the wilderness this time, where he gets help from his craggy, tinfoil-hatted dad Nick Nolte, before he ultimately has to set up defences against a special forces assault. All of which is tense and exciting, since although liberties are taken, it’s clear that the movie is aiming for people who know one end of their hand grenade from a sub-machine gun.
The stupid quotient is also lower this time around. While previous movies were clearly in Nolte’s camp, Angel Has Fallen is a little bit less anti-big government and anyone foreign than previous entries. There are also decent enough twists and even a few things the movie has to say about private contractors and growing old as a soldier.
However, that’s not to say it’s smart. It’s still very clearly on the side of the stupid from the outset, starting with the whole idea that the man who twice single-handedly saved the previous president has decided to kill this one. Sure, he could have done a Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1996), but the fact that no one says “Hey! Isn’t this a bit unlikely?” at the very least makes it clear the movie isn’t really that concerned with likeliness. Well, that and drones with built-in facial recognition technology.
But of all the …Has Fallen movies, this is clearly the least stupid. However, it is also by a slight margin, the least thrilling as well. The stakes are just a little bit less, the lack of interaction between Freeman and Butler a definite disappointment, the lack of other returning characters a downside (admittedly, they’re virtually all dead), and the fact that Radha Mitchell has been unceremoniously swapped out for Piper Perabo as Butler’s wife.
So while it’s not a huge disappointment, it does have more to say for itself and the action scenes are great as always, it does feel like the least of the franchise. Worth a gander if you like a shootout, but perhaps not worth seeking out.