Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson has jumped genres throughout his career — the noir Brick, the comedy of The Brothers Bloom, the science fiction of Looper, the big blockbuster that was Star Wars: the Last Jedi and now Knives Out. He also helmed an episode of Breaking Bad that won him a directing Emmy.

Since 2005, Johnson has had this Agatha Christie-influenced film in mind. He also cited films like Deathtrap and Clue as cultural touchstones for this movie.

So what’s it all about? Well, crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead — a suicide — at his estate the day after his 85th birthday. Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired by an unnamed party to investigate the crime. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.

First things first: my attention span has been ruined by a steady diet of grindhouse movies, Hong Kong cinema and the works of Italian gorehounds. A movie over two hours long is quite intimidating to me, but I did my best to stick with it.

So the good things: Daniel Craig is absolutely having the time of his life playing private detective Benoit Blanc and every scene with him is a joy to watch. I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot, as well as the detection flashbacks, which brought to mind the original Murder on the Orient Express. And it’s always great to see Plummer in a movie, as he was, after all the emperor of the galaxy in Starcrash. Yes, that’s my cultural callback for this venerated actor.

This movie is a chance for Chris Evans to break out of the superhero mold he’s found himself in. And Ana de Armas — who is also in the Eli Roth film Knock Knock — is great as Marta Cabrera, the nurse who finds herself inheriting the estate of the murdered writer who is the patriarch of this family of liars and thieves at the heart of this story.

Hey — there’s M. Emmet Walsh, filling in for Ricky Jay who died during production. And Riki Lindhome from Garfunkle and Oates and the remake of The Last House on the Left (and also Under the Silver Lake). Plus, it’s cool to see Frank Oz in his first onscreen role since, well, Blues Brothers 2000.

But man — there are so many characters here that have little or no time to shine. Jamie Lee Curtis is basically playing a cameo role and you could say the same thing for Toni Colette, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson.

When we reached the one hour point, my wife asked me, “How much longer does this have?” I told her that we weren’t even halfway done yet and she replied, “What else do they have to tell us?”

I liked the film more than her. Despite reading reviews filled with hyperbole saying things about how this movie has reinvented the murder mystery and turned it on its head, I thought it was a pleasant enough diversion. It’s not going to replace Agatha Christie movies for me, but for an audience that has probably never seen the films like Sleuth and Gosford Park that Johnson is inspired by, it’s certainly a revelation for them.

Your mileage, as I always say, may vary.

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