This evening I saw Knives Out. A bit off-brand, I know: no aliens, demons, or super people. Occasionally I do see things grounded in the here-and-now or the non-alternate past.
Short review: I liked it.
To expand on that, it was essentially a who-dunnit, with a twist. (Much like The Last Jedi, the only other Rian Johnson movie I saw, was a Star War that subverted expectations yet played well within the bounds of the genre and setting.) Christopher Plummer plays a wealthy mystery novel writer who is found dead, apparently by his own hand. But was it murder? Somebody thinks so, and put a famous private detective – Daniel Craig with a passable Cajun accent – on the case. Suspects include the deceased’s parasitic children, overly sheltered grandchildren, in-laws, and assorted hangers-on, all of whom have, as the police detective calls them, “weaksauce motives”.
We’ve seen this before, so many times, and it’s played as a comedy, particularly when we find out the deceased’s nurse cannot tell a lie, and pukes if she tries. And then, about halfway through, we find out what really happened, and the story gets much darker. It’s not a “cosy” murder by any means; it’s a tradegy of innocent but fatal errors that could doom one of the few innocents in the whole mess. It’s Columbo if the “murderer” wasn’t a rich asshole who was too clever but a well-meaning struggling servant who made an honest mistake. The pressure rises almost unbearably on the one person who knows the truth, as they’re caught between a detective who gets too close and various members of the quarreling, grasping family.
Special shoutouts to:
Daniel Craig’s performance as a self-absorbed detective who one could almost imagine saying the phrase “leetle grray cells”.
Ana De Armas as the nurse who plays a surprisingly important role – well, surprising if you haven’t seen Gosford Park – with a dignity and presence that carries her through both the tragicomic absurdity and the ever-increasing pressure of her situation.
Chris Evans as the smarmy “black sheep” of an already awful family who seems almost decent but then, nope, he’s an asshole.
Rian Johnson’s staging and direction, particularly of the slowest car chase since O.J. that’s somehow as funny as the car chase from A Shot In The Dark.
Rian Johnson (again) as the scriptwriter for a deft balance of comedy and tragedy, ridiculous exaggeration and real dramatic stakes.
The casting director who found a mix of up-and-coming and familiar actors – Jamie Curtis, Katherine Langford, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Colette, Frank Oz, Riki Lindhome (ever lurking but with few lines), and in one scene M. Emmet Walsh (he’s still alive?) – to play various suspects and witnesses that made the movie even more like an episode of Poirot or Murder She Wrote.
The twist ending is maybe a little too clever, although (once again) well within the bounds of the cosy murder mystery genre.
Anyway, thumbs up, fresh tomato, whatever. Would watch again.