At first glance, it’s just another Agatha Christie wannabe.
With a stacked cast and a setting at an old, countryside mansion, writer-director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out looks like it could go the way of other lackluster murder-mystery films that have unfortunately graced the screens in the last few years like the remake of Murder on the Orient Express from a few years back and all of the Sherlock Holmes reboots.
But this time, it’s different.
Written and directed by Johnson — whose most recent successes include the sci-fi thriller Looper and the second installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi from 2017 — Knives Out is a brand-new story.
Sure, the ingredients sound familiar.
An old house in the middle of nowhere. A suicide by an eccentric millionaire that seems to be something more. A cast of suspicious characters from the housekeeper to the nurse to the playboy grandson played by none other than Chris Evans. (It’s refreshing and hilarious to see him shed his goody-goody Captain America skin for this role. His smart-ass character is enough to get butts in seats.) An enigmatic detective, in this case, played by Daniel Craig.
And yet, Johnson manages to take all of these elements and bring a fresh take. The setting, while old-fashioned, is infused with modern flair through elements of social media, stark political division and even the story of undocumented immigrants gracing the screen. The addition of relative newcomer Ana de Armas as one of the main protagonists, is refreshing as well, especially against the backdrop of heavy hitters like Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield and Christopher Plummer, in addition to Craig and Evans.
The story is simple.
Wealthy crime-novelist Harlan Thrombey dies by apparent suicide just after his 85th birthday. A party had been held in his name earlier in the evening, and any number of individuals present has now been cast as a suspect. Enter Benoit Blanc, a private investigator hired anonymously to solve the case.
Early on in the film, the plot is seemingly revealed, with Johnson giving an explanation of how, why and when Thrombey meets his death. But it’s in the hour and a half that follows that the finer details of the story are slowly and satisfyingly brought into focus, while still leading viewers on enough until the final moment of revelation.
It’s a welcome escape in a time when our government plays through its very own whodunnit, day after day.
Funny, satirical and even heart-wrenching at times, Knives Out proves that an original telling of a seemingly overdone genre is not only possible, but exciting to watch, even if it means enduring Craig’s forced Foghorn Leghorn accent for two hours.