Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, LaKeith Stanfield, Don Johnson, Ana de Armas
Rian Johnson has found time between "Star Wars" films to drop a savvy whodunnit mystery. "Knives Out" is the latest fan service flick from this fanboy filmmaker. The writer/director has assembled one of the year's most impressive casts to reinvent "Clue" or modernize "Murder on the Orient Express." In fact, Johnson even compares Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc to an American Hercule Poirot, albeit far more ridiculous. "Knives Out" works on two levels, an engaging murder mystery that’s entertaining and fun with some of your favorite franchise actors playing caricatures. It's also an allegory for immigration and sarcastic commentary on the socio-political climate. Mainstream audiences won’t care or even key into Johnson’s highbrow allusions, but it’s entertaining enough on genre merits to satisfy a crowd.
The Thrombey Family have just lost their patriarch, the origin of their wealth and success. Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) was found in his bed with a slashed throat by his nurse Marta (Armas). As the family piles in for the funeral and reading of the will, so do the police including investigator Lt. Elliott (Stanfield) and private detective Benoit Blanc (Craig). Everyone has a motive because prior to his 85th birthday, Harlan cut off all business ventures with his children and family. Linda (Curtis), the eldest, is unconvinced her father committed suicide. Walt (Shannon) might have had the biggest motive, as his father refused his youngest son's request to turn his books into lucrative movie deals. Grandson Ransome (Evans) wasn’t at the funeral, but that’s to be expected from the black sheep. Unsure of exactly who hired him, the more family members Blanc he meets, the more suspicious he becomes.
"Johnson again infuses his love of cinema and the genre into his work. If nothing else, his clever screenplay showcases how much he enjoys one-way conversation with his audience."
“Everyone can lie, well almost everyone.” One of the funniest running jokes is that Marta suffers from the inability to lie. If she tries, she pukes almost instantly. This literal spilling of the beans joke is equal parts grotesque and hilarious in the various ways it’s used. With all the high profile names, it might surprise you that Armas (also the new Bond girl) is the lead actor here and the character who drives the narrative. The rest of the cast probably filmed the entirety of their roles in a handful of days, but Johnson’s script makes each colorful personality memorably ridiculous. There isn’t much need to try to guess whodunit because the twists and turns come without embedded clues the viewer might spot. Just when it seems we will never get to the point of all the questions, along comes a very satisfying finale.
"Knives Out" is a doughnut hole, a sugary bit of entertainment in the middle of a film festival to break the monotony of the many slow, quiet, mostly depressing films being shown. It will likely have the same effect when it opens in theaters on Thanksgiving weekend. Johnson again infuses his love of cinema and the genre into his work. If nothing else, his clever screenplay showcases how much he enjoys one-way conversation with his audience. "Knives Out" certainly has a target audience, and the rest will find it passable entertainment that’s unlikely to hold much weight on top ten lists or award nominations.
Rian Johnson’s facetious script improves upon the modern whodunnit with an impressive cast of characters.