KNIVES OUT teaser movie poster | ©2019 Lionsgate

KNIVES OUT teaser movie poster | ©2019 Lionsgate

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, Marlene Forte
Writer: Rian Johnson
Director: Rian Johnson
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: November 27, 2019

KNIVES OUT is at once the epitome of a modern drawing-room murder mystery, and a movie that turns some conventions inside out. There’s a murder, and there’s a mystery, but what we wind up trying to figure out isn’t exactly what we expected.

Director/writer Rian Johnson obviously loves the genre. In his Massachusetts mansion that one character describes as being the embodiment of a Clue game board, successful and wealthy murder mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has just celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday, with all of his large family in attendance. The following morning, housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) finds Harlan in his bed with his throat slashed.

Soon on the scene are police Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield), Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) and celebrity private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc’s presence is welcomed by Elliott, even though the detective is here because he was hired by an anonymous client.

The suspect pool is wide. There’s Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her blowhard husband Richard (Don Johnson), their unemployed grown son Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan’s son and publisher Walt (Michael Shannon), Walt’s wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), their teenaged budding fascist son Jacob (Jaeden Martell), Harlan’s widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), her college-student daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), and Walt’s young nurse Marta (Ana de Armas).

KNIVES OUT movie poster | ©2019 Lionsgate

KNIVES OUT movie poster | ©2019 Lionsgate

We see flashbacks of what actually happened, contrasted with the big and small lies that almost everyone tells the investigators. Johnson is a scrupulously reliable narrator; none of the flashbacks are fakeouts. We need to pay attention to small details – we’ll be reminded at the appropriate moments should we forget anything – but by the finale, pretty much everything is accounted for.

A lot of the fun here is in simply guessing what the big twists will be. There’s also joy to be had in David Crank’s mischievously elaborate production design, which appears to pay homage to Hollywood’s Magic Castle as well as many Agatha Christie adaptations.

Then there’s the great cast. De Armas is appealing as the uncommonly honest Marta. Craig, as Blanc, who resembles a Southern version of Columbo, keeps us guessing as to whether or not Blanc knows his stuff, while appearing to have the time of his life. Shannon, so often cast as intimidating figures, likewise appears to be enjoying himself in an effective turn as a man pushed around by his relatives. Curtis, as an imperious wealthy matron, and Collette, as the clan’s self-styled free spirit, are both extremely amusing, as is Johnson as the opinionated but anxious son-in-law. Evans pulls off both being an absolute boor and a knowing dreamboat, so that we’re not sure which is the real persona. Stansfield finds some humor in his comparatively straight man role, and Segan is very funny as his enthusiastic aide.

KNIVES OUT is smart, amusing, handsome, entertaining, and an all-round whodunitwhathappened good time.

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