To make a great whodunit, whether in prose or on film, one must have very important ingredients. You need a labyrinthian plot that keeps the audience guessing. You need a reveal that not only surprises but also makes logical sense. And you need a cast of fantastic characters, all of whom could be guilty as easily as they could be innocent. And, thanks to a fantastic cast, “Knives Out” is chock full of great characters.
“Knives Out” is a murder mystery that plays out at the country mansion of deceased mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) pours over the evidence he gathers from Harlan’s family, and something seems off. He recruits Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s nurse, to help him chase the truth. Everyone has a motive and the evidence is a twisted web. Can Benoit get to the bottom of it?
This movie works so well because the characters are so well cast and not a one delivers a weak performance. Unfortunately, there are too many great characters and performances to mention them all, so let’s hit the highlights:
- de Armas is pitch-perfect as someone who doesn’t belong in the nest of vipers that is the Thrombey family but who might be the key to the whole mystery.
- Chris Evans kills it as Ransom Drysdale, Harlan’s wayward grandson who enjoys playing his family members off one another. His performance is deliciously evil and spoiled.
- Noah Segan steals scenes as Trooper Wagner, a total Harlan Thrombey fanboy who doesn’t do a very good job of keeping his fandom in check.
- Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette are both fantastic as Thrombey family matriarchs, each of whom is more interested in getting the family money than getting to the truth.
There isn’t a weak performance in the piece, but it’s Craig that shines the brightest. He adopts a Southern drawl so convincingly that he’s almost unrecognizable. He has a free and easy wit, but you can always see the wheels turning in his head as he puts the pieces of evidence together. He’s so good, it’s hard to take your eyes off him and I hope he gets some awards recognition.
The rest of the responsibility for making “Knives Out” work falls on the folks behind the camera, particular writer/director Rian Johnson. Johson’s script is as twisty as a murder mystery needs to be without going to a place where it’s too incredible or unbelievable. His humor doesn’t always land (Blanc has a monologue about donuts that does on for just a bit too long), but it works far more often than it doesn’t.
Johnson’s visual style is lush without being filled with distracting camera movement or extreme angles. He lets his cast tell this story and gives us enough interesting visual details to give the movie a little personality.
“Knives Out” is at turns fast-paced, funny and tense. It’s filled with interesting characters, many of whom could probably serve as the center of their own films. If you want to hit the theaters but aren’t interested in “Frozen 2,” “Knives Out” offers an entertaining evening full of twisty mystery and terrific acting.
4 Indy Fedoras out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13