I love a good whodunnit. Give me an unreliable narrator, misdirects, a slew of suspects, and a shocking reveal, and I’ll wanna know about it. Even if I don’t see a particular film or read the book, I’ll still Google it, because I just need to know if it elevates the genre or not. We haven’t seen the All-Star Locked Room Comedic Murder Mystery in quite some time, with Clue from 1985 and Murder By Death from 1976 seemingly the last entries, if you don’t count 2017’s Murder On The Orient Express…and for the record, I’d like to not count it. Many of these films felt clunky, not so much directed as traffic controlled, with nine jokes flopping for every good one, and no real stakes attached to the killer’s identity. The Last Of Sheila from 1973 proved a rare exception with Herbert Ross’ adept direction and a truly unpredictable script filled with challenging clues.
Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), clearly a fan of mysteries and a genre subverter since day one, brings back this type of film in roaring, skilled, hilarious fashion with Knives Out, one of the most entertaining, grinning ear-to-ear experiences of 2019. Fear not, I won’t spoil anything with this review except for the initial setup. A housekeeper discovers the dead body of successful crime novelist, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), leading to an investigation by Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) in which every single family member invites suspicion. They include Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson as the uptight, intense daughter Linda and her husband Richard, Toni Collette as the obviously GOOP-inspired lifestyle guru Joni, Chris Evans as the above-it-all prodigal son Ransom, Michael Shannon as put-upon son Walt who’s tasked with running the family business, and Harlan’s faithful but constantly vomiting nurse Marta (Ana de Armas).
Enter Craig as the aforementioned detective, who initially takes a backseat to Lakeith Stanfield’s straight shooting Lt. Elliott who interviews each family member one by one as they sit in front of an knife sculpture highly reminiscent of Game Of Thrones’ Iron Throne. During this, Craig’s detective occasionally noodles on a nearby piano, piquing everyone’s interest. When he finally speaks, it’s a grand entrance with Craig clearly having a blast with his southern-fried twang and comical line readings. You can almost feel him savoring his non-Bond role for every second he’s onscreen.
The rest of the cast seems to dive head-on into embodying their less-than-sympathetic characters, with Collette and Curtis particularly relishing the opportunity. Evans, usually saddled with dull leading roles, seems to channel Donald Trump Jr. in a silent competition to see who can appear more smug and condescending. While not everyone gets their fair share of screen time, it’s enough to suggest that they all knew they had a rare treat on their hands. Ana de Armas, who shined in Blade Runner 2049, brings some much-needed heart to this film as a woman who loved her boss and appears incapable of telling lies. It’s this tonal shift between comedy and deeper emotions which elevates the film.
Typically with murder mysteries like these, we feel like the cast had a great time despite the mediocre script and filmmaking. Rian Johnson, however, clearly cares, and has brought a perfectly calibrated directing style to this tonal tightrope walk. His opening and closing shots cleverly and memorably demonstrate the care and control he has and the rest of the time his camera placement and movement fluidly outshines his predecessors. This film has great pacing and delivers a jolt of fun. Beneath the zingers, the fun car chase, the complicated scheming and surprising outcome, lies a film with something on its mind about class warfare, greed, and power. Even if you figure out whodunnit, you may not expect that last, delicious moment. Knives Out won’t change the world, but if you feel all stabby stabby, pukey, eyes rolling into the back of your head over your family this Thanksgiving, this wonderfully crafted, smart, delightful romp will satisfy your hunger.
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Knives Out gets a 0 out of 50. With all of the narcissistic sociopaths on display here, you’d think one of them would go all queer murder-ish rage, but not this holiday!
By Glenn Gaylord
Knives Out opens in the U.S. on November 27th.