‘Knives Out’ : Rian Johnson’s first stab at the whodunnit is a success

Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out (2019)

Directed by Rian Johnson

Something is afoot in Rian Johnson’s old-school whodunnit, “Knives Out.” After celebrated mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found in his room with his throat slashed, the coroner’s opinion is that it was a suicide. But a few days later, the Massachusetts patriarch’s large, dysfunctional family, his nurse, and his housekeeper are all called into the home by two cops and a P.I. with a smooth southern drawl (Daniel Craig) who suspects foul play.

Daniel Craig, Noah Segan, and LaKeith Stanfield in Knives Out (2019)

This set-up is so ripe for mystery, because memory is fallible. Even when the family members try to tell the truth (and sometimes, they don’t), they sometimes misremember the details. This leaves open the possibility that you, the viewer, might solve the crime before anyone else can. But good luck. Is that even the goal? Do you want to guess the ending, or do you want to try to guess the ending but ultimately not succeed? I’m much more impressed by the movies that give viewers a fighting chance, but ultimately come out on top. “Knives Out” strikes that rare balance. Some mystery movies have one big twist, usually at the height of the action—but if you guess it, it loses all effectiveness. Others have so many impossibly unpredictable twists, they rarely even make sense in the end. “Knives Out” is, mercifully, right in the middle. It’s not just a whodunnit, but a howdunnit and whydunnit, too. So, even if you do guess a piece of it, you’ll likely still find something that shocks you. I left the theater kicking myself, because “Knives Out” lets you think you could’ve guessed it. Few murder mysteries feel this perfectly thought-out.

“Knives Out” also boasts the most brilliantly assembled cast of the year. As the Thrombey family patriarch, Christopher Plummer is as wonderful as ever. He doesn’t get as many scenes as the others (for obvious reasons), but in one lengthy flashback in particular he shows why he’s still considered one of the world’s greatest talents. As the legend nears his eighth decade making movies, one of his co-stars is just getting started. Spanish actress Ana de Armas (“Blade Runner 2049”), playing Harlan’s nurse, gives a breakout performance. Daniel Craig seems like he lives for the eccentric roles he’s taken lately in “Logan Lucky” and “Knives Out.” It’s hard not to love watching a consummate actor like Craig brandish such absurd, non-Bond-like accents. Playing various members of Harlan’s family are Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon, who are great choices separately but round out the year’s best ensemble by feeding off each other.

“Knives Out” serves up plenty of drama, even more laughs, and more secrecy than the entire rest of the 2019 slate of movies combined. Take my word for it. It’s a blast.

8/10

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