Every syllable of Daniel Craig’s accent contains a subliminal “I do declare!” Michael Shannon’s goatee is clearly an unrepentant murderer, independent of the man upon whose face it hangs. Toni Collette weaponizes vocal fry, while Chris Evans gets to do lots of curse words. So yeah, writer/director Rian Johnson’s wickedly breezy Knives Out “duns” all the “whos” and checks every box, including “cheeky social commentary.”
With a plot seemingly written by Agatha Christie mildly drunk on boxed wine, Knives Out never cheats. Rich mystery novelist and dysfunctional family patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead of an apparent suicide, but Benoit Blanc (Craig) is not convinced. Blanc is a private dick—the dick being short for Dixie—hired by an unknown party to investigate. Among the many, many suspects are Harlan’s no-nonsense daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her MAGA hubby, Richard (Don Johnson); Harlan’s daughter-in-law, Joni (Collette), a single mom and wannabe Goop CEO; Harlan’s son and nefarious facial hair wearer, Walt (Shannon); and Harlan’s surly, useless, cardigan-addict of a grandson, Ransom (Evans).
Harlan’s kind-hearted caretaker, Marta (Ana de Armas), finds herself beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish. However, even her role in this macabre affair isn’t quite what may be first suspected. Thankfully, she uncontrollably vomits whenever forced to lie, so at least audiences know when she is barfing deceit. As Blanc looks for the drops of blood that dot every I and the double-crosses over every T, Knives Out nimbly speeds to a final reveal that feels remarkably fair, an exceptionally difficult trick for a genre where the desire to surprise viewers often confuses gimmicky manipulation with cleverness.
Hands down, the best parts of Knives Out are the things that Craig does with his voice and face. The overt genius of his performance is buoyed by somewhat subtly placed clues that lead to a delightful thesis: the “self-made” myth espoused by rich people is a faux alibi used to cover all manner of sins and crimes. The pokes and prods at gross cultural behaviors are never distracting and feel like a course correction for a category of films that often traffics in stereotypes.
Those expecting outright goofiness may be a bit surprised by the legitimate sincerity with which Johnson approaches this murderous affair. That’s not to say Knives Out isn’t a blast, it absolutely is, but it is also meticulously conceived and carefully executed. It is more genuinely quirky than it is kitschy and may have more in common with Parasite than it does with Clue.
Every minor role is played by a truly gifted performer. Every static bit of exposition is made less ugly to watch through graceful cinematography. Everything just works. Really, the only thing that keeps Knives Out from that most elite tier of renowned cinema is that it is so intentionally anti-elitist. Giving it an A+ would feel like missing the point. Here’s hoping Blanc goes the way of Poirot, and Johnson sees fit to bring the super snooper back for many, many more murders.
Grade = A