The game is afoot in Rian Johnson’s (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Looper”) latest mystery flick. He cut his teeth on the genre in the early 2000s with movies like “Brick” and continued to put mystery elements in later ones like “Looper.”
But “Knives Out” is a straight up mystery movie, complete with a cast of potential murderers in primary colored outfits. As one of the cops aptly says, “It’s like the guy lived in a Clue board.”
While the basic premise might sound like that of the past (or upcoming) “Clue” film, Johnson’s script and direction quickly turns it into anything but.
It’s virtually impossible to discuss the plot without giving anything away, so to keep things as brief as possible, Johnson keeps the mystery at a believable level, without making it seem too easy to guess, keeping the guessing at a maximum and the rug-out-from-under-you shenanigans to a minimum.
Luckily, the cast is up to the task. This is an ensemble piece first and foremost, so while there are definite story leads, everyone shares the screen relatively equally.
Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween,” “A Fish Called Wanda”) is particularly entertaining, flashing a devilish grin and snarky retort at any opportunity. Michael Shannon (“The Shape of Water,” “Revolutionary Road”) turns in a convincing sad sack role, and Chris Evans (“Fantastic Four,” “Snowpiercer”) returns to his pre-Captain America days of playing a delightfully fun to hate character.
Lakeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You,” “Dope”) also makes an appearance as the straight man cop to the legendary Detective Benoit Blanc.
That detective is played by Daniel Craig (“Munich,” “Skyfall”) who seems to be following a bit in the footsteps of his last southern fried role in “Logan Lucky” by completely ditching his British accent for a slight southern drawl.
His detective isn’t real; he feels like a cartoon caricature, someone who’s read one too many Poirot novels and yet he keeps getting it right. That juxtaposition mixed with Craig’s completely committed performance makes him a delight.
It helps that he has a great opposite to play off in the form of Ana de Armas (“Blade Runner 2049,” “War Dogs”). While initially seeming like a bit role, or one that could easily get lost in the fray, her journey is the linchpin of so many of the film’s best aspects.
Johnson’s script and Armas’ pure talent work to create a girl you want to see succeed, or at the very least to reach in and give her a hug. Plain and simple, you root and feel for her the entire time she’s on-screen.
The rest of the supporting cast rounds out nicely with the likes of Don Johnson (“Miami Vice,” “A Boy and His Dog”), Toni Collette (“About a Boy,” “Little Miss Sunshine”), Katherine Langford (“13 Reasons Why,” “Love, Simon”), Jaeden Martell (“IT,” “Midnight Special”), Noah Segan (“Looper,” “Brick”), Edi Patterson (“Vice Principals,” “The Righteous Gemstones”), a small cameo by Frank Oz (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” “The Muppet Movie”) and a delightfully warm, yet short cut, grandfatherly performance from Christopher Plummer (“The Last Station,” “Beginners”).
There are layers or double sides to all of them, whether it’s the 12-year-old boy who’s also a Nazi alt-right troll, or the definitely-not-a-Gwyneth-Paltrow-callout lifestyle guru.
Good thing they have a particularly lavish house to be holed up in. Much of “Knives Out” is about juxtapositions, and it manages that even in the sets. The crudeness of some of the family is shouted out while sitting in lavish chairs and in front of a gold mantle above a roaring fire.
Likewise, seeing a detective as renowned as Blanc sit in a car, earbuds in and singing along to “Losing My Mind” from the Sondheim musical “Follies” is such a bizarre delight.
The film is, without a doubt, a pure delight. It’s got great production design, a wonderful cast and a director with something to say. Quite literally, in fact, because that’s what pushes “Knives Out” up above the rest.
Yes, there is subtext, but it is so cleanly woven into the film that by the time the big undercurrent or message of the plot becomes apparent, you’ll immediately want to rewatch the film to see if the pieces really did fit together.
As the last shot fades out, it becomes apparent that Johnson has stuffed the film with so many details, plot references and Easter eggs that a second viewing is practically required.
However, with a film so fun, so delightfully twisted and wonderfully intelligent, with a completely willing cast, a star turn from Ana de Armas and an undercurrent of razor sharp subtext, “Knives Out” is an absolute bullseye. 5/5