Toronto 2019

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out

Daniel Craig in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019)

With The Last Jedi two years behind him and an all-new Star Wars trilogy up ahead, Rian Johnson may have just inadvertently launched another franchise on the side. Knives Out, a comedic murder mystery in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie that’s also very much rooted in the here and now, has been spectacularly well-received by critics following its premiere this past weekend in Toronto. Johnson tells Mike Ryan at Uproxx that he “had so much fun doing this on every level, from writing it to making it,” that he’d jump at the chance to build another movie—or two or three or more—around Benoit Blanc, the southern private eye played by Daniel Craig. “It’s just what Agatha Christie did,” he says. “It’s just coming up with a whole new mystery, a whole new location, all new cast . . . It’d be a blast.”

In Knives Out, the tremendously successful and filthy rich crime novelist Harlan Thrombrey (Christopher Plummer, seen alive and well in flashbacks) is found dead, his throat slit, on the morning after his eighty-fifth birthday. As a detective (LaKeith Stanfield) and a state trooper (Noah Segan) interview family members, Benoit Blanc declares that everyone on the estate is a suspect: Thrombrey’s daughter and her husband (Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson); his son and his son’s wife (Michael Shannon and Riki Lindhome); and his son’s ex, a wellness guru, and her daughter (Toni Collette and Katherine Langford). “Everyone in Knives Out puts in cartoonish performances,” writes Jake Cole at Slant, “but Collette punches past the rafters, through the roof, and enters Earth’s lower orbit, combining faux-spirituality, liberal elitism, and emotionally stunted neediness into a whirlwind of hilarious inanity.”

Rounding out the cast are Ana de Armas as Thrombrey’s private nurse, who has such an aversion to lying that she barfs every time she tries; and as the grandkids, Chris Evans, and the bickering Jaeden Martel and Katherine Langford, who go at each other “in the vernacular of the extremely online, lobbing insults like ‘liberal snowflake’ and ‘alt-right troll,’” as Charles Bramesco notes at the Playlist. “This film has been palpably informed by the amount of time that Johnson spends on Twitter, and in no small way, it doubles as a bracing fuck-you to the sort of cretins that have been harassing him ever since he went to the galaxy far, far away.”

Johnson swiftly establishes “the architecture of the house, the timeline of the party that happened the night before, the family history—whole pages of exposition, brilliantly masked by the screwball zing of his editing and dialogue,” writes A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club. “All this groundwork laid, the audience is primed to settle into the mechanics of the mystery. But as quickly as Johnson has set up his board, he scatters the pieces, dropping a reveal that seems to upend the whole game just as we’ve learned its rules. It’s a trick he’ll pull again and again in Knives Out, which keeps reinventing itself on the fly.” At the same time, Johnson is “eager to defy your expectations, but unwilling to betray your trust,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “From its opening moments to its all-timer of a final shot, the film’s greatest pleasures are character-driven, and those pleasures even manage to survive a hectic second act that spends most of its energy laying down track for the third.”

Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson finds that Johnson’s “swats at Trumpism are direct and maybe sometimes a little too on-the-nose. Still, there is something undeniably exciting about seeing a polished piece of studio-ish entertainment like this be cognizant of the world it exists in.” That said, Rolling Stone’s David Fear is confident that Knives Out will be, as Johnson himself might put it, a blast long after Trump is gone. “Class has been a constant in murder mysteries since the form’s early days,” writes Fear, “and Knives Out uses the disparity between the haves and have-nots, the folks to the manor born and those forced to smile politely at rich people’s foibles and follies, to deftly score points. You’re having such a gas watching Johnson and his stars do their Agatha Christie cosplay that you might not even register that the movie has left a thousand cuts in its wake.”

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