This is likely the best movie I’ve seen this year. A mystery like this is almost perfectly calibrated to for me to like, even if the execution is merely competent. (See 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express.) Luckily, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is more than just competent: it is outstanding. Knives Out isn’t quite the classic “whodunit,” as the killer is revealed pretty early, but it is a wonderful, twisting mystery that fully satisfies.
Harlan Thrombley, a wealthy mystery novelist, dies after his 85th birthday party. His entire family was there, as was his nurse. The evidence suggests a suicide, but when a pair of cops show up after the funeral to ask a few questions, they have famous private investigator Benoit Blanc with them, and he suspects foul play. Blanc and the officers proceed to question all the family members present.
That family is a classic array of mystery suspects. The first is Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s daughter Linda. She is a proud and haughty real estate mogul, who seems to get along with her dad. Then they question her husband, Richard, played by Don Johnson, who had argued with Harlan before the party. There is Michael Shannon’s Walt Thrombley, Harlan’s youngest son who runs Harlan’s publishing company. He also argued with Harlan that night. There is Joni, played by Toni Collette, the widow of Harlan’s other son who is reliant on Harlan for financial support. Then there is the next generation of Thrombleys, alt-right dweeby teenager Jacob, performatively liberal college student Meg and family black sheep Ransom, played by Chris Evans. Ransom is not present, but the others have bits to contribute to the case. Finally, there is Harlan’s young nurse, Marta, played by Ana de Armas. She was the last person to see Harlan alive, as they played Go in his attic office before leaving for the night. She also has the unfortunate personal tic of vomiting when she lies. Taking everyone’s self-serving testimony, Blanc has to put together what happened that night and find out who is responsible for Harlan’s death.
It is a star studded cast. I haven’t even mentioned that Daniel Craig play Blanc, employing a delightfully overdone southern accent as he drops tortured bits of wisdom. Or Lakeith Stanfield as the lead cop on the case. Ana de Armas is the star of the movie though. She impressed in Blade Runner 2049, but she is even better here. Her Marta is pressed into service as something of a Watson to Blanc’s Sherlock Holmes. Her unavoidable honesty, and the fact that she has nothing to gain by Harlan’s death, makes her the person he can rely on while investigating.
To the shock of nobody, not everything is as it seems. Everybody is hiding something, even Blanc himself. The movie is light on its feet and wonderful to look at. It keeps flipping the viewer’s understanding and expectations. The one thing that is constant is that the Thrombleys are terrible. They are not equally terrible, or terrible in the same way, but they are all terrible. From Joni’s apparently good hearted but still thoughtless – she gets one of the early big laughs by noting that she knows Blanc from reading a tweet about a New Yorker article about him – actions to Richard’s overt, presumptive and unearned sense of superiority they all suck. When Ransom shows up, you really want to believe he is not as bad as you’ve been led to believe. Sure, he’s the black sheep, but the family sucks and Chris Evans is charming. But in the end he is another Thrombley.
The movie is just purely entertaining from start to finish. I loved every second of it. Rian Johnson has quickly become one of my favorite directors. From this to The Brothers Bloom to The Last Jedi, every movie I’ve seen of his has been both thoughtful and entertaining. With him being signed on for a trilogy of Star Wars movies, I hope he has time for diversions like this in the years to come.