In the case of Knives Out, 2019’s dastardly delightful murder mystery, I can tell you “whodunnit” – filmmaker Rian Johnson. The “it” in question is leading viewers on a twisty, methodical deconstruction of perception filled with lies, betrayal, and good ol’ fashioned detective sweat. With a cast including Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and more, Johnson’s gallery of rogues brings the utmost entertainment, more traditional and Sherlockian in mannerisms but with the comedic intentions of Jonathan Lynn’s Clue adaptation.
The game is afoot, dear readers. Don’t let this caper whiz on by like audiences once failed Craig’s Logan Lucky at the box office.
When acclaimed author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is discovered by his housekeeper with a slit throat, blood puddle still fresh, his estate falls into panic. Authorities proclaim Harlan’s death by his own hand, but when an unnamed source hires esteemed investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to sleuth further, an insinuation of foul play becomes apparent. Could son Walt (Michael Shannon), son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson), moocher daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), or any other Thrombey commit such a crime in the name of inheritance? As the previous night’s details emerge, it becomes more and more likely.
Lionsgate will release Knives Out on November 27th. Until then, here are three pieces of evidence that prove, without reasonable doubt, Rian Johnson has indubitably crafted one hell of an intricate and deceptive mousetrap.
1. Benoit Blanc, The Legend
Daniel Craig punches up his “Joe Bang” bumpkin alchemist from Logan Lucky into a more sophisticated, composed analyst as Benoit Blanc. He’s the Hercule Poirot for our volatile times, speaking of donut metaphors through the thickest Southern drawl Colonel Sanders could attempt. Benoit’s introduction tells you everything you need to know, as Craig sits behind Lt. Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) while they interrogate Harlan’s clan. Striking a piano key to wordlessly object to their stories, Blanc is a man whose cranial mechanics are always churning, which Craig emotes by staring at his subjects as he silently dissects them.
Enter Harlan’s personal nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), who becomes the reluctant Watson to Blanc’s chicken-fried Sherlock. Why? She vomits when even attempting to lie. I mention Marta here because Craig’s performance is always best when interacting with his unexpected sidekick. Craig’s chemistry with Armas becomes an effortless high point through their master and nauseated apprentice banter. Whether it be happenstance stumbling upon vital information or openings for Craig to launch into analogies and explanations Marta can understand, Benoit Blanc stands as some of Craig’s best character work.
2. An Update On A Classic
When you compare Knives Out against modern criminal procedurals, Johnson takes a chance on outdated genre storytelling. Investigative conundrums are easier to solve these days, given how technology has advanced from when famous private eyes only had their wits and trenchcoats. Knives Out gets back to basics via interrogations, “seeing is believing,” and the hiss of forked tongues. Benoit has 48-ish hours to prove that Harlan’s death was, indeed, an act of murder, and he’s only given broken pieces of wood and traces of mud as evidence. Not exactly CSI: Rich And Famous, but that’s where Johnson’s storytelling shines.
Every character hides a motive, including Walt’s firing from Harlan’s publishing company or whispers of adultery in other ears. Chris Evans crashes the party, a.k.a. the reading of the will as scene-chewing grandson Ransom Drysdale, giving no hecks since he’s recently been stricken from Harlan’s inheritance. Even Katherine Langford as Meg, Jodi’s “social justice warrior” daughter in need of tuition money, and Jaeden Martell, who plays Walt’s alt-right “Nazi” troll son, add to pot-stirring dramatics. Every character is laboriously defined – prime suspects – and the cast of professionals ensure no once can be labeled innocent, even if they didn’t kill Harlan. It’s a tangled web Johnson weaves that he cleanly works out, all cat’s cradle-like. Even more, it’s deadly exciting. Sometimes an old dog doesn’t need to learn new tricks.
3. Johnson’s Knives Are Sharpened
Rian Johnson could have scripted a toothless piece of switcheroo content, but there’s responsibility sewn into Knives Out. As we learn about the Thrombey collective, selfishness and political outbursts start to define an interfamily battle that’s purely about good winning out. In the case of Harlan’s bombshell decision to leave his wealth and possessions to a surprise party, we’re subjected to the Thrombeys’ opinions about locking certain people out while demanding what’s “rightfully” theirs. It’s rife with first-world complaints from a privileged family that blatantly calls out classism and relates back to a larger national discussion about certain social prejudices.
I’m not one to say every film has a responsibility to be more than popcorn-worthy entertainment, but Knives Out is a brilliant dedication to both social commentary and delicious pawn manipulation. Johnson doesn’t solely put a knife to Harlan’s throat. He’s placing vitriolic anger on trial and proves that times, they are a-changing, all while Daniel Craig plunges deeper into the dysfunctional hysteria that is the Thrombey bloodline. You’ll burst out laughing and adore how Johnson’s cast plays their cards with confidence, masks their bluffs, leading to an enjoyably validating “A-hah!” finale. Knives Out carries so many layers, the most important of which you’ll never see coming.