Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★★½

People going into a Rian Johnson movie should know to never expect the expected. Even then, be prepared for an extra wrench or two to be thrown in to keep you on your toes. It wouldn't be the first time Johnson has tackled the mystery thriller - we can harken back to his early roots with Brick, but even his subsequent films Brothers Bloom, Looper, and even Star Wars: The Last Jedi have had elements of mystery to them. It makes sense, then, that after a certain point, he'd cut straight to the chase and make a Whodunnit, a genre foundationally built on strategically withholding and revealing information to the audience.

Knives Out is a superior whodunnit for a number of reasons, but its biggest asset is just how much fun it is. This film, more than anything, feels like the true successor to Clue: gathering an improbably massive ensemble cast of impossibly talented actors and letting them go to town with forming their characters. Johnson and company never forget that Knives Out wants to entertain you most of all.

A story like this with a family like the Thrombeys requires larger-than-life personalities to populate it, and everyone is game. My favorites of the supporting cast were Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and Chris Evans, relishing playing against his Captain America type for the first time in a long time. We also gotta mention Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, who seems to be going for broke the most of anyone. Armed with a comically-thick Southern accent and cigar-chomping mannerisms lifted straight from the Agatha Christie playbook, he, too, looks to be having the time of his life playing something other than James Bond.

However, the film's true acting MVP must be awarded to Ana de Armas, given a role worthy of the potential she displayed in Blade Runner 2049. What's most impressive is given the breadth of talent in the ensemble cast, she's emerges as the de facto "protagonist" and has to carry much of the film on her own shoulders, which she accomplishes tremendously. She is funny when she needs to be, hits all of the right emotional beats when she needs to - she acts as the film's moral heart in the sea of Thrombey cutthroats, both literal and figurative. This deserves to be a star-making performance for her.

Johnson's script and direction showcase and skewer the absurdities of a wealthy family desperately lacking in self-awareness. There is laugh-out-loud moment after laugh-out-loud moment, and many of its best gags are the ones that sneak up on you. Jokes come not just from the writing, but also visually and how certain scenes are staged and blocked. One sight gag involving the Thrombey dogs playing fetch with a particular item is some of the hardest I've laughed with a movie all year.

But how is the murder mystery? It's great, in ways that you may not expect. As I said before, the whodunnit is a genre built on its author knowing when to hold and reveal information, and Johnson seems to relish in taking risks with what information he gives to the audience and how it will payoff with later reveals and misdirection. It plays with the tropes of the murder mystery while losing none of the intrigue. What Knives Out achieves through this is not only making you care about whodunnit, but also what's at stake to lose if the true culprit isn't discovered. And, as driven home by its *chef's kiss* perfect final shot, that makes the resolution all the more sweetly satisfying.

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