Professional childhood killer Rian Johnson’s fifth film – and first since the mildly controversial (the cast only received a few death threats?) Last Jedi in 2017 – is a delight. The title is Knives Out, by-the-way: but the main thing I want is you to know is that this film, put simply, is a delight.
It’s a classic whodunit (think Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot) with a modern twist (think references to immigration and an internet troll for a character) and very comedic, though not to the extent of insincerity or farce, tongue-in-cheek tone. Furthermore, it’s also delightful. Did I mention that already?
Regardless, there’s been a murder. The victim? Wealthy author (of mystery novels, no less) Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who, on the night of his 85th Birthday, kicked the bucket via a very gruesome slit to the throat. Seemingly, this is a clean-cut (pun, I swear, unintended) suicide. And the police think so too. But you and I? We didn’t pay to see some mild gore followed by a funeral and a will reading: treachery, almost certainly, is afoot.
Enter Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig + a Southern accent = the most fun he’s ever had?), a private investigator who, by benefactors unknown, is called onto the case and starts to try and crack it. Among his suspects: Harlan’s daughter and self-made business-woman Linda (Jamie Lee-Curtis); her husband Richard (Don Johnson); their rapscallion-rogue son Ransom (Chris Evans); Harlan’s timid son Walt (Michael Shannon); his son and professional internet-troll/Nazi Jacob (Jaeden Martell); Harlan’s daughter-in-law and lifestyle-guru Joni (Toni Collete); her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford); and – last (finally!) but certainly not least – the house-nurse Marta, as portrayed with a touching amount of pathos by Ana de Armas. Each, seemingly, had a motive, but all, furthermore, had an alibi.
So now, the killing has been committed, the genius-detective called and the gaggle of suspects assembled, which can only mean one thing: the game, my dear Watson, is afoot! And this game – this wicked, wicked game – is played by Rian Johnson, against us, the audience.
He, as his unabashed love/hatred for all genre films dictates, subverts the ever-loving hell out of this movie, while still keeping the genre’s spirit alive. Twists and turns are frequent; the whole structure is a binary opposite to what you’d expect; the tone, even, is very tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted, as opposed to, y’know, murder. It’s both a textbook murder mystery and a slightly-offbeat rendition of one. And yet, it works.
The note-perfect comedy and remarkably precise casting help this, with the aforementioned Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas, our two leads, getting the most, ultimately, to play with. But the prestige goofiness, fear not, does not end there. For in Riantown, every actor has the time of their lives: or they, too, get stabbed.
Chris Evans, in particular, gets to show his range as the literal antithesis of Captain America (which results in a glorious scene-chewing competition with Daniel Craig), while Christopher Plummer – who features most prominently in a series of flashbacks – turns in a resoundingly upbeat performance also. Toni Collete is, equally, fantastic: as was Jamie-Lee Curtis. Heck, Michael Shannon was great, too, as was Don Johnson. So was Lakeith Stanfield (Detective Lieutenant Elliot). And Katherine Langford. And – despite their comparatively small roles – Jaeden Martell, K Callan (“Great Nanna” Wanneta) and Noah Segan (Trooper Wagner)!
What I’m getting at is that Mary Vernieu, the casting director for Knives Out, deserves a raise. I’m not affiliated with her in any way: I just think she deserves her due for this tour-de-force flex of star-power.
Really, all that cripples Knives Out is its ending, and even that is satisfying. You feel that it ended perfectly and are content with the result, but it just feels out of place with how Johnson typically tells his stories and has trained you to experience them. It alludes to something greater and more mindblowing before culminating in a very basic and simplistic way.
Even still, Knives Out remains, to reiterate one last time (though I make NO promises) a delight. Johnson’s enthusiasm, energy, distinctive style and musical flair leap off the screen like an ecstatic kangaroo. Put simply, he revels in the raw glee HIS film oozes.
He does also tackle some more complex ideas (regarding class, greed and privilege): and makes no efforts to disguise the film’s place in the modern world, without being too preachy or self-indulgent (though there are admittedly elements of both those things throughout). Regardless: I’m gonna break my promise.
Knives Out, for lack of a more original phrase, is a total, magnificent and hearty delight. A dazzling, delectably devious and dubiously-dynamic delight. Step aside Poirot, Holmes, Colombo and Scooby-Doo – for Knives Out – hear, hear; hark, hark! – is a pure-blooded, totally-irresistible and giddily-joyous delight!