There’s no shortage of humor or intelligence in Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” a parody of the drawing room murder mystery that is itself a brilliant example of the genre.
Sporting a cast of big screen veterans, the purposely convoluted script relies on its fine cast to walk the fine line between parody and sincerity. They’re up to the task, and with Johnson keeping the tone light-ish with a tinge of dark comedy this proves to be the rare populist feature that refuses to dumb things down for the audience.
The challenge is to keep up with the script’s various narrative switchbacks as Johnson runs about keeping multiple plates spinning. It’s all worth it in the end as the movie is uncommonly witty and satisfying.
The scene of the film’s central crime is the vast estate of mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) who’s died under strange circumstances. While the authorities are quick to label it a suicide, someone thinks the writer was killed and has dispatched detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate.
There’s no shortage of suspects as it seems everyone in the Thrombey clan had a reason to want the old man dead. Could it be his hard-as-nails daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) or her husband-with-a-secret Richard (Don Johnson)? Then again, it could be his underachieving son Walt (Michael Shannon) or nervous daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Colllette). Of course, his spoiled brat of a grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) has his reasons, while his devoted nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) should not be overlooked.
There’s a lot to take in as Benoit grills one suspect after another, and while a great deal of background is revealed about each character there’s a clarity in Johnson’s setup (there’s flashbacks aplenty) that makes it easy to keep up with the detective as he unravels this sinister tangled mess.
To be sure, once the case is cracked, the circumstances surrounding it are so ridiculous you can’t help but chuckle at the audacity of it all, which is the point, as stories of this sort rely on the improbable being likely.
Everyone in the cast is given a chance to be in the spotlight and they all rise to the occasion.
Curtis’ acidic line deliveries, Collette’s fidgety tics, Johnson’s barely contained desperation and Evans’ reveling in his playing a character as dissimilar to Captain America as possible all produce big laughs.
However, it’s Craig’s tenacious, Southern-fried Poirot that steals the show. His broad drawl alone is worth the price of admission as is his exuberance once Benoit sinks his teeth into the case. It’s obvious everyone is having a great time and their sense of fun proves infectious with the viewer.
Johnson deftly inserts a bit of political commentary concerning the 1% and the rest of us and it feels especially pointed where de Armas’ Marta is concerned. (I’ll reveal no more) The film’s final shot is obvious but effective and like all good entertainment, “Knives” left me wanting more, despite its two-plus hour running time. Benoit is a delightful creation and it would be a shame if this is the only case he cracks. Hopefully, Johnson has another witty mystery or three up his sleeve for the erstwhile detective to solve.
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