Knives Out is a diabolically intricate whodunit from writer/director Rian Johnson. He takes a stellar ensemble cast, then plunges them headfirst into a mystery that would make Agatha Christie swoon. The film skewers the one percent with a fusillade of social barbs. Johnson takes great pleasure in mocking the pretentious wealthy. Knives Out does run long and lose steam halfway. The machinations become a bit too convoluted. That said, the pieces come together in a satisfying ending that will leave audiences cheering.
Knives Out opens at the eighty-fifth birthday party of wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). His children, grandchildren, and their spouses celebrate the occasion at Thrombey’s lush Victorian estate in upstate New York. The night ends on a horrific note when Thrombey is found dead in his study. He apparently killed himself by slashing his neck.
What’s deemed an obvious suicide is investigated further by a local policeman, Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield). He was prompted to revisit the case by world famous detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig); who was hired anonymously. As Elliot and Blanc interview everyone who attended the party, inconsistencies emerge. Thrombey argued with his rebel grandson (Chris Evans). Reigned in the finances of his daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband (Don Johnson), granddaughter (Katherine Langford), and her flighty mother (Toni Collette). Thrombey also rested control of his writing empire from his son (Michael Shannon). Everyone had a motive to kill Harlan Thrombey. The one outlier, Thrombey’s dedicated nurse (Ana de Armas), who has watched the family for years, and literally cannot tell a lie.
The fun begins with the ridiculously eccentric characters. Daniel Craig is a hoot as Benoit Blanc, whose laconic southern drawl drips like molasses. Then you have Thrombey’s distasteful spawn. Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson are hilarious in their entitled, immigrant-bashing, Trump-loving rants. They argue nonstop with their ultra-liberal niece (Katherine Langford) and her loony, spiritualist mother (Toni Collette). Michael Shannon is the least disgusting as Thrombey’s son, but is still a weasel. Chris Evans as Thrombey’s grandson is the only character that acknowledges, and relishes, his slimeball personality. Rian Johnson gives his superb cast a lot to chew on. Their personalities are the backbone of the story and supremely entertaining.
Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, Looper, and Brick, loves complications. He throws curveballs in every film. Nothing is straightforward or simple. Knives Out is his most complex script. The film swings wildly as new revelations reorient the mystery. He’s largely successful, but overreaches at points in the story. Johnson deviates from the murder to contrast the moneyed Thrombeys with the poor lifestyle of the nurse and her immigrant family. Johnson’s slinging arrows in today’s culture wars. But his prolonged bashing of the rich gets old. Knives Out runs two-hours and ten minutes. He could have shaved off a chunk of excess runtime with less proselytising.
The culprit, even after all the meandering, can be sniffed out. My baddie guess was correct from the first act. Knives Out‘s cadre of possible villains has one that sticks out. Audiences will have a great time contemplating whodunit. Knives Out is the perfect movie for Thanksgiving arguments. Knives Out is a production of MRC and T-Street with distribution by Lionsgate.
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