Dir: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer
It was Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick!
Everyone loves a good, old fashioned whodunit; that stealthy murder mystery suspense thriller in the vein of an Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle novel. The kind of mystery story that starts with the discovery of a dead body and weaves through a group of people, where everyone is a suspect, leading towards the final reveal of the devious plans and the uncovering of the murderer who tried to get away with it all.
Writer/director Rian Johnson, who last helmed the monolithic “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, takes a step back with a smaller more restrained film and also into the past with “Knives Out”. Johnson, obviously influenced by films like the Agatha Christie adaptation “Death on the Nile”, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Sleuth” starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and “Deathtrap” from Sidney Lumet, crafts a clever and entertaining whodunit with an exceptionally talented cast of players.
The mystery takes place at the sprawling, ornamented estate owned by world-renowned mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). His family, a group of ravenous vultures who have become dependent on the immense wealth Harlan has cultivated with the production of his library of novels, is celebrating his birthday when at the end of the evening, Harlan is found dead in his study.
Funeral arrangements are made, the last will & testament reading is planned, but the police (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) have some final questions concerning the circumstances of Harlan’s death. Most especially interested is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a sort-of-famous investigator, who’s involvement in the proceedings is dubiously unknown. As are the motives of Harlan’s caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas), his arrogant nephew (Chris Evans), belligerent son (Michael Shannon), and entitled daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis). Everyone is a suspect.
Rian Johnson clearly understands the setup and execution of these specific narratives, spending a meticulous amount of time building the maze of clever clues, amusing MacGuffins, and witty fake outs. Johnson understands that what makes these types of films so enthralling is that viewers will place themselves into the story as amateur gumshoes, analyzing background objects, dissecting comments made by characters, and following the many diverting bread crumb trails. Johnson executes this component effectively throughout, building the mystery and revealing secrets in interesting, if sometimes familiar, ways. There are only a couple of moments when the twists and turns overtake the pacing and momentum of the story.
The cast is exceptional and part of the reason the film works so well. Everyone in the film has a specific motivation and each has very identifiable character traits that set them apart from one another. Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, with a thick southern accent and showy gestures, swaggers through scenery with confidence and glee. Jamie Lee Curtis, playing the stoic figure of the family, is having fun giving long glares and sly smirks. Michael Shannon, playing Harlan’s son, is consistently amusing to watch as he stumbles and grumbles from scene to scene. The entire ensemble is provided an opportunity to shine.
“Knives Out” is a meticulously crafted environment and story from start to finish. While there are a few moments when the film reveals its tricks too early and sometimes too plainly, Rian Johnson ultimately displays a masterful understanding of how to craft a good ol’ fashioned whodunit.
4.00 out of 5.00