“When people get desperate, the knives come out.” And they truly do in Rian Johnson’s newest film Knives Out, a modern take on the classic Agatha Christie murder/mystery “whodunnit.” This film was pure enjoyment from the first scene to its phenomenal final shot, and is certainly on par to be one of the best of 2019. Johnson — the writer and director — is coming off the foot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) and makes a seamless transition between the genres as one would expect from someone of his caliber and directorial finesse. Knives Out was a 10-year project from Johnson that reaches its culmination in a flawless execution that leaves you wanting more as soon as this case is closed.
Knives Out follows an eccentric, yet combative, family after the suicide of their patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Thrombey, a wildly successful murder/mystery author, lives in a massive estate with his hired help Fran (Edi Patterson), the housekeeper, and a registered nurse, the endearing and devoted Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). We’re introduced to the remainder of the Thrombey family over the course of interviews with law enforcement members Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), who are at the estate after renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) was anonymously hired to comb over the gritty details before this case is definitively ruled a suicide. In these interviews we meet Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), Harlan’s eldest daughter, a real estate mogul, her husband, Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon), Harlan’s son and the current head (and assumed heir) of Harlan’s publishing company, Walt’s wife Donna (Riki Lindhome) and his son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell). We’re also introduced to Harlan’s daughter-in-law Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), a lifestyle and self-help mogul, and her college student daughter, Meg (Katherine Langford). However, not present for these interviews is Linda and Richard’s son, Hugh “Ransom” Drysdale (Chris Evans), who has a reputation of his own (and not a good one.) Each family member has their own motive (and web of lies), but who is the guilty party?
One particular thing to commend is that as much as this film was a “whodunnit” it was not in a way that was expected. The murder/mystery and the question of exactly who hired Blanc to investigate this case are both prevalent to the plot, keeping the facts twisting around the trellis and audiences on their toes as they try and piece each well placed clue together. And just when you think you’ve got it all nailed down, Johnson rips the rug out from beneath your feet, until the grand summation of the labyrinthine plot at the end of the film. Some things are not what they seem, and each tiny detail, no matter how insignificant, are clues. (So pay attention!)
The script is a perfect blend of humor, suspense, mystery, and wit, with a star-studded cast filling in these multi-faceted characters with much to hide, but at no point are any of the characterizations or farce over the top or forced. The comedy is perfectly timed and the suspense spread evenly over the 130 minutes. While there is no glaring political tone to the film, it is very in tune with the current political climate, fearlessly (and at times hilariously) stepping foot into today’s current issues without being overpowering or coercive. Johnson created these deplorable, manipulative individuals with great care, and spared no expense in finding the perfect performer for each role. However, with a cast as A-list as this, it is to be expected that screen time is split accordingly, with Craig and De Armas leading the way.
Speaking of Craig and De Armas, they — along with Chris Evans — steal the show. While not one performance is anything less than stellar, these three bring the story to life. Craig is effortlessly comical, bringing a jovial and unexpected glee to his renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc. He delivers every snarky line and absurd nuance with that dead-pan straight face we expect from him, making it all the more entertaining to watch. De Armas is nothing short of delightful as the altruistic and charming Marta Cabrera, and it would be a disservice to not mention she truly is the heart and soul of this story. Then there’s Evans, coming off the foot of his decade-long tenure as Captain America Steve Rogers, he proves that he isn’t one to be typecast and that he’s here to stay. His spoon-fed, repugnant Ransom Drysdale showcases a completely different side of Evans that many haven’t seen, and it is a joy to watch. He’s cruel, unapologetic, and absolutely loathe-worthy. If you’re on the fence, let the allure of watching Evans sneer “Eat sh*t” to the entire Thrombey/Drysdale family — with an equally wicked grin to serve it with — convince you.
Another detail that may not be known is that this film was shot on location, leaving Johnson with the task of shooting to the space versus making the space ready to shoot. There are no moving walls, moveable furniture, or change in lighting to make the shots work, and it only adds to the magic and allure of the cinematography. Each room is eclectically stunning, with details so minute that it’s impossible to appreciate them all in just one watch (you’ll want to watch it more than once regardless).
Knives Out truly is a real, modern love letter to the Agatha Christie stories that inspired this masterpiece. You’ll be having just as much fun when the film is over recalling all the events leading up to the inevitable “aha!” moment, all while appreciating just how pertinent this film is to the world we are currently living in. Johnson has created an exquisitely balanced story that won’t soon be forgotten. Whether you want a little suspense, family drama, or a smart, yet funny story to get lost in for two hours, this is the film for you. It is the do-not-miss of the holiday season, so don’t be left stuck in the mud.
Go find out “whodunnit” in theaters November 27.