Knives Out finds writer/director Rian Johnson at his most playful, delivering a murder mystery that’s often hilarious. It’s full of razor-sharp wit, clever twists, and some insight into modern America.
Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is dead of an apparent suicide. As his family – comprised of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and others – mourn his passing, one man suspects foul play. He’s Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), renowned gentleman sleuth, who’s hired anonymously to investigate the death. Meanwhile, Thrombey’s nurse (Ana de Armas) enters the fold, holding secrets of her own.
Johnson has long made a name for himself taking genre pictures and twisting them ever-so-slightly. While he’ll perhaps always be most well-known for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, his previous movies – Looper, The Brothers Bloom, and Brick – all succeed at taking genres we think we know and subverting our expectations of them.
Knives Out is no different. The Agatha Christie-inspired whodunnit begins much as we expect it would. But the structure of the piece is interesting. The central mystery is apparently solved quite early, with the rest of the movie caring less about “who” killed Harlan Thromby and more about “how” this person will get away with it.
There’s no shortage of colorful suspects and willing accomplices. Johnson keeps the movie packed without feeling overstuffed, and surprisingly lengthy without every feeling slow. This is a slick, well-made crowd-pleaser in all the best ways. And thankfully, Johnson plays fair; those paying enough attention should be able to piece together some of the answers before the big reveal.
Daniel Craig clearly had the time of his life making this movie, delivering his most playful performance since Skyfall and one of the best he’s ever turned in. Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) makes the most of her largest role to-date, displaying equal amounts of tenacity and vulnerability as required. Chris Evans steps about as far away from Captain America as possible, and acquits himself admirably.
The rest of the cast has little more than a handful of scenes to leave an impression, but the bounty of recognizable faces helps in that regard. Of note are Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and of course, Christopher Plummer.
Lensing by Steve Yedlin is excellent, while Bob Ducsay’s editing is peerless. Knives Out will likely be in the awards conversation for Best Original Screenplay and Best Production Design, but Editing should also be in the mix. This is a fun, exciting thriller that just about all ages should enjoy.