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Knives Out

Knives Out -- a review by FilmZ

Rian Johnson's film resume' is intriguing and eclectic, and his Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the only truly good entry in that series since The Empire Strikes Back, so it should surprise no one that he has written and directed a cracking good old-fashioned whodunit.   As a fan of the genre and one who has tried his hand at writing them, let me note that a good Agatha Christie-type mystery is no mean feat.  And from the opening shot of the dark old mansion on a misty day with two giant black hounds loping across the lawn, the mood is set.

Following his 85th birthday party, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — a bestselling mystery writer and multi-millionaire patriarch of a dysfunctional family — is found dead of an apparent suicide. Soon after local cops Lt. Elliott (LaKeith Stanfeld) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) begin questioning family members, super sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a Southern-fried Hercule Poirot shows up.  He has been hired by an anonymous benefactor to prove the death is murder, and his reputation as an uncanny bloodhound has preceded him.

So, the game is afoot, as Blanc interviews the array of reprobates and weirdos that make up the Thrombey clan.  In the classic mystery fashion, all of the suspects have something to hide,  all have reason to want the old man offed.  There's daughter Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), a self-made business tycoon, not counting the $1 million dollar stake her dad provided; son Walt (Michael Shannon) who runs the publishing empire that only handles dad's bestsellers; Joni (Toni Collette) a New Age social media influencer whose product "Flam" is of dubious purpose; Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) whose bigotry is exceeded only by his philandering.   And then there are assorted grandchildren: an alt-right snot, a leftist coed, and most notably Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) the blackest sheep in a family of black sheep.  The only decent survivors, it seems, are Greatnana (K Callan), a dowager, and Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan's immigrant nurse whom everyone in the family loves even as no one knows her home country (Bolivia? Uruguay? Paraguay? Brazil?)--but even those two have their secrets. The house itself is like a giant Clue board through which the above suspects and several more move furtively, their behavior announcing their guilt even as every utterance asserts their innocence and every index finger points elsewhere.

Rian Johnson has surely done Dame Agatha proud with a twisty mystery that spins us around when we think we have everything straight.  The cast seems to be having marvelously evil fun.  Chris Evans runs gleefully counter to his Captain America image and Toni Collette, as usual, steals every scene she is in as the vapidest guru to hit the screen in years.  In the lead, Daniel Craig expands the comic chops he flexed in 2017's sneaky-good heist film, Logan Lucky.  It's a foregone conclusion that a comedy will not win any awards, but none of the Oscar-nominated films will give you a better time at the movies this year.
9.0 out of 10


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