Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Colourful, camp to its fingertips, and contagiously fun, Knives Out is director Rian Johnson proving his mastery of the mystery, flexing the full breadth of the tight-knit storytelling prowess he showed flashes of in Brick fifteen years ago, and bringing it all to life with a troupe of actors hamming up a gallery of outsized characters.
Bestselling mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, throat slit, in a nook of his massive mansion. The police is ready to declare a suicide, despite the dramatic exit, and his many dependants are eyeing up their share of the man’s fortune, but there to stick his finger in the pie is gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, ridiculous and exuberant like overpowered fireworks). Acting on an anonymous tip, he trawls the many halls, prods at testimony and pointificates in a heavy southern drawl, like a Hercule Poirot reborn south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Caught in the middle of it all is Thrombey’s assistant and confidante Marta (Ana de Armas), an unknown quantity to the self-obsessed family members but a valuable truthfinding tool to Benoit due to her falsehood-averse gag reflex. Speak no lies, spew no bile.
There’s enough deceit, intrigue and veiled looks to satisfy anyone’s hankering for a bonafide whodunnit, but the real pleasure is in the gallery of rogues that make for the suspects. Like a colourful bag of candy, the embarrassment of riches of acting firepower in the shape of Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette, Chris Evans and Don Johnson all compete on the human exaggerations that are their characters, be it a jaded son, an self-important daughter-exec, a new age airhead, a freeloading grandson or a jackass son-in-law. They all double down on the eccentricities, amplify their performances and realize Knives Out in its proper camp.
Standing opposite them all is LaKeith Stanfield, playing the straight man for once, as Lieutenant Elliott, the officer in charge of the investigation. His natural inquisitive air and sense for looking beyond what’s evident served him well as unorthodox life guru and entourage member Darius on Donald Glover’s Atlanta, and it’s an inspired fit here as well.
The excellence continues right down into the minor characters, where Jaeden Martell delivers a mostly non-verbal performance as a teenaged gloomy Ben Shapiro-wannabe alt-right troll, and Katherine Langford is an equal pleasure as his bristly social justice warrior cousin, all for the advancement of immigrants like Marta until her possible payday’s on the line.
All of this is to say that even if Knives Out was only this family of ingrates pointing fingers and trading insults, it’d still be a good time, but the complete production package delivers an experience of such visual decadence, from Johnson’s dramatic direction to David Crank’s flourish of a production design, that there’s both style, substance and satisfaction to this story of elites, their hypocrisy, and the satisfaction of their comeuppance.