I’ve been a big fan of Rian Johnson since his film Brick. It’s a great film, a wonderful twist on the film noir. I remain a fan, including and through The Last Jedi, a movie that was, shall we say, divisive, because it has minorities and women in it and one of the women is super good at the force and thus the movie is evil and should be hated. Or something. Fortunately for us, Johnson was not entirely subsumed into the giant blockbuster world that he dipped his toe into. It can be hard to escape a franchise. Like, say, if you play James Bond. Or a guy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What oddly specific references…or are they?
Here is how hyped I was to see Knives Out, the latest movie from Johnson, which happens to include in its massive, and massively impressive, cast Daniel Craig (aka Bond) and Chris Evans (aka Captain America). I found out, by a stroke of good luck, that they were doing a special screening at theaters around the country a week before it was opening wide. I immediately bought a ticket. I was intrigued. It was an old-school murder mystery, with Craig as a genius consulting detective in the vein of a Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. Although, to me he has a lot of Lieutenant Columbo in him as well. The trailers for Knives Out made it feel like a classic whodunit, something we don’t see much anymore. Of course, I should have known that the guy who brought a fresh take on the film noir with Brick wasn’t just going to make a traditional drawing room mystery. Knives Out is so much more.
Obviously, I’m not going to say too much. I won’t go into the plot. I won’t spoil a thing. That would be a total dick move on my part, for you as a filmgoer and for Johnson as a filmmaker. It was such an enjoyable movie experience, though. As a murder mystery, it works. The plotting is sharp and it never drags. The movie is propulsive, but it has time for its characters. We don’t dig much into Benoit Blanc, the last of the gentleman sleuths, played by Craig. Oh, he’s a fun character, but he’s the detective. He’s there to solve the crime. It’s the rest of the cast of characters that get a chance to be fleshed out.
Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is dead. That’s the jumping off point. Everybody who was at the party the night prior, mostly Harlan’s family, are called upon to be interviewed by the police, and also by Blanc. This is a true murderer’s row, pun intended but mostly because I realized I was about to make a pun and just let it happen, of a cast. Harlan is played by Christopher Plummer. There’s also Craig and Evans, of course. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and the biggest name of all, character actor M. Emmet Walsh. Also Ana de Armas, who played Harlan’s nurse Marta. She gets third billing, and she certainly stood out to me in the cast. De Armas has no issues sharing the scene with some big heavyweights, including Craig and his thick, Foghorn Leghorn Southern accent.
Here’s why Knives Out thrilled me. In addition to being a riveting, rollicking whodunit, the movie has a lot to say about the world. It feels like a murder mystery from the days of Agatha Christie, but it’s set in modern times. It’s overtly political. Immigration comes up repeatedly. Twitter gets mentioned! It’s a whodunit where people Google stuff! The movie is funny, sharp, fresh, and, the thing that gripped me most, kind hearted. I laughed a lot, but there were also multiple times my eyes misted with tears. Knives Out runs the gamut.
Rian Johnson never does anything milquetoast and generic. He’s made another incredibly dynamic movie that jumps off the screen. I’m definitely going to watch Knives Out again. If you haven’t seen it for the first time yet, you should amend that.