Coming off of the much-scrutinised (and actually quite good) Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it is clear that writer-director Rian Johnson was looking to let loose. Free from the weight of expectation, with Knives Out — an updated whodunit in the Agatha Christie tradition — Johnson rallys an all star cast and lets them at a sprawling murder-mystery that is so tightly plotted that it is difficult to say too much without spoiling the fun. And the film, starring Daniel Craig as a dapper private investigator with a southern drawl, Lakeith Stanfield as his Watson and Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey, an extremely wealthy crime fiction author with a mysteriously cut throat, is a lot of fun.
Structured around Harlan’s death at a birthday party, the main suspects are his disgruntled extended family and the staff who help organise his life and home — aptly described as “Like a Clue Board.” Amongst assorted adult children, and grandchildren, the suspects include Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s daughter Linda, Don Johnson as her slimy husband, Harlan’s son Walt (a bitter Michael Shannon), his wife Joni (Toni Collette), and Chris Evans as their delightfully skeevy son. There’s also Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), a Uruguayan immigrant with a distinctive condition: she can’t lie without vomiting.
Johnson played similar games with Brick, his hard-boiled high-school noir update starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As there, his affection for genre is obvious, with Craig’s gentleman detective and the grand old mansion setting (it’s faithful to our understanding of the typical whodunit. There is no mistaking this for a film of an earlier era though. Johnson’s script is riddled with up to date references to politics and social justice issues. From Jaeden Martell’s dweeby alt-right incel, to Katherine Langford’s specifically rich kid brand of hypocritical wokeness, the film wastes no opportunity in skewering worthy (Trump-y) targets and elite privilege.
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