Starring Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Frank Oz, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Edi Patterson, K Callan, Noah Segan, and Christopher Plummer
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Rated: PG for coarse language, substance use, and violence
Runtime: 130 minutes
Now playing at Landmark Cinemas St. Albert and Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton
Ahh ... the murder mystery: such a wonderful form of storytelling that not only invests the audience deeply into the plot but also frequently into the art of telling the story too. Who doesn’t love a whodunnit? While you’re there looking for the clues and trying to solve the riddle, the filmmaker is there toying with you by using devices like flashbacks and unreliable narrators to trick you away from the answer. By the end, however, everything comes together in such a deeply satisfying way that you just want to go right back in and watch it again.
At least, that’s how murder mysteries are if they’re done right. Enter Knives Out: murder mystery not only done right but done better. It’s modern, thoughtful, relevant, and it has panache – and that’s saying something. I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in this genre since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, although Kenneth Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express came pretty close.
In the grand tradition of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, there’s an old mansion with a mansion-full of likely suspects. Elderly Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is a best-selling mystery writer just celebrating his 85th birthday with his entire family. It was a good party, but he’s dead by the next morning. Unfortunately, each of his children and grandchildren has more than enough motive to be considered the culprit, which is why everyone is a suspect. Families are always rising and falling in America, Hawthorne said, and this is a fine example of that.
Also in those grand traditions, everything that was said or not said and every little detail must be paid attention to. They’re all clues, except for the red herrings.
Enter the police joined by the infamous private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who arrives to decipher the details and tag us all along while not giving away too much until the time is right.
First off, can we all breathe a sigh of relief that Rian Johnson is back from his trip to Star Wars Land and is now writing and directing his own original movies again? The creative genius behind Looper and The Brothers Bloom took some time away from pure cinema to helm The Last Jedi two years ago. He’s America’s answer to Christopher Nolan, and I stand by that assertion. What’s more is that he has a sense of humour, and that goes a long way in my book. Just try and watch Craig’s “doughnut hole” speech without having a better understanding of that.
Knives Out really has everything going for it, including a top-notch cast here, with thespian patriarch Plummer joined by such wonderful character actors at the top of their game including Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Frank Oz, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Edi Patterson, K Callan and Noah Segan. Even Craig knows how to dress up a supporting role. He should never star in a movie again for that reason. Watch Logan Lucky to witness what I mean.
The movie really belongs to relative newcomer Ana de Armas, whose character Marta is Harlan’s underpaid/overworked immigrant nurse. She’s the heart of this complicated story and couldn’t have been portrayed better. And therein lies what this movie is really about. It’s essentially an allegory about America, its entrenched protectionist stance and its xenophobia. A whodunnit murder mystery that actually has artistic value and pertinent social commentary that could fuel important dinner conversation with your entire family? That’s it right here. Watch it now. It’s not only a deeply satisfying piece of entertainment but a smart one to come back again and again to.