(director/writer: Rian Johnson; cinematographer: Steve Yedlin; editor: Bob Ducsay; music: Nathan Johnson; cast: Christopher Plummer (Harlan Thrombrey), Daniel Craig (Benoit Blanc), Jamie Lee Curtis (Linda Drysdale-Thrombrey), Toni Collette (Joni), Ana de Armas (Marta), Don Johnson (Richard), Michael Shannon (Walt Thrombrey), Chris Evans (Ransom Robinson), Lakeith Stanfield (Lt. Elliott), Noah Segan (Trooper Wagner), Katherine Langford (Meg Thrombey), Jaeden Martell (Jacob Thrombey), Riki Lindhome (Donna Thrombrey, Walt’s wife), Edi Patterson (Fran), K Callan (Great Nana Thrombey); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson; Lionsgate; 2019)
“Contemporary but old-fashioned shaped whodunit that both enlivens and refreshes the genre.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The talented director-writer Rian Johnson (“Looper”/”Brick”) is fresh off his great 2017 Star Wars sequel installment, The Last Jedi of Star War, only to return to the crime story narratives he loves from his early films. He wonderfully pays tribute to celebrated mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle with this contemporary but old-fashioned shaped whodunit that both enlivens and refreshes the genre. Johnson also puts together an all-star cast, who make this film as good as it gets in the smart mystery genre.
It’s set in a Gothic mansion (with secret panels & back hallways) in the middle of the Massachusetts countryside, where the recently deceased 85-year-old family patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a best-selling mystery novelist and wealthy owner of a publishing house, has died from a possible suicide. His embittered, grudge-holding heirs, who eye his fortune become the main suspects when the possibility is raised his death was a murder.
Harlan lives alone in the family mansion. His heirs–the vain self-made businesswoman Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her bookish and sincere brother Walt (Michael Shannon), who runs his late father’s publishing house, and the spiteful widowed Instagram user sister-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), along with their many offspring, including Linda’s spoiled asshole son Ransom (Chris Evans), have gathered for the patriarch’s 85th birthday. After celebrating at night, in the morning Harlan is discovered in the attic with his throat slit.
Coming to the estate to investigate the death are the bumbling local police, Lt. Elliott and the State Police Trooper Wagner (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan), who rule it a suicide. But the celebrity private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, in a scenery-chewing non-Bond comical role), hired by an unknown party, deems it a murder.
The three main suspects and a fourth, Linda’s Trump supporter, doltish, adulterer husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), are grilled by Blanc about the events that night leading up to the murder. What follows are flashbacks, showing each suspect as a liar. Their actions are so goofy that the mystery morphs into a delicious black comedy.
The only reliable witnesses are the only normal ones in the household, Harlan’s sweet, loyal S. A. immigrant nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), who pukes when lying, and the working-class maid Fran (Edi Patterson).
Knives Out makes frequent references to the world of today, as it tries to bridge the gap between the generations. It tells how fast the world is changing when it comes to values, and what’s awaiting for future generations is that those who don’t feel entitled to wealth by privilege will have a better chance than ever of success in America’s future. Caught in this change is the dysfunctional family, who all believe it’s their birthright to be rich and have entitlement. The film’s twist is in how brilliantly it moves from a murder-mystery to an examination of the current mores in society, even if its richly drawn character driven story might stumble somewhat in the second act with too much good dialogue. But it recovers fully in the third act to make this original whodunit a most memorable and enjoyable one.
REVIEWED ON 9/8/2019