There is a reason murder mystery flicks have survived for as long as they have in Hollywood. When executed well, they're engaging and amusing. Yet, this is a type of tale that has been around for a very long time and it feels like an area that's hard to break new ground in. With Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson has managed to pull off just that, by crafting a truly unique and highly entertaining modern whodunit, with a killer, stacked ensemble cast for the ages.
Knives Out centers on the death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday. Following the incident, the entire family is gathered for the investigation, which is led by the inquisitive and quirky detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc and the police must sift through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death as tensions rise over the fate of the vast fortune at stake.
A good murder mystery relies on keeping the audience guessing. To give anything away about how this movie accomplishes that would be a disservice to the audience, but Rian Johnson pulls off something of a magic trick in that department that flips the script on how these things usually play out. It makes it feel fresh, while at the same time paying a lot of homage to something like Clue. It puts a remarkably clever spin on the genre. At the same time, any story has to be about something more than just following a trail of breadcrumbs. This is very much a story about family and the complexities that surround family. While not everyone is part of a wealthy family squabbling over a fortune, what is being explored with this family should feel familiar to all.
Outside of a twist, a movie like this relies entirely on characters. They need to be entertaining. They need to be layered. They need to bring everything to life instead of simply pushing the tale to its eventual conclusion. Knives Out is impossible to argue against in this department. To single too many people out would be nearly pointless because everyone in this amazing ensemble is on their A-game. Having Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and the great Christopher Plummer all in one place is truly an embarrassment of riches. Though, I will say, I'm not sure any of us have ever seen Craig have this much fun on screen.
To that point, the main thought I had while watching this movie that this cast is made up of people who seemed to just be having fun working on a project with very little pressure. Craig has been working on James Bond for more than a decade. Evans just got done playing Captain America. Curtis recently returned to Halloween. Martell broke onto the scene in a big way with IT. It goes on. Yet, here, it's not a big franchise. It's just a classic mystery designed for everyone to let loose and so something different. Even Rian Johnson, who was coming off of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which came with a ton of pressure and subsequent exhaustive conversation amongst a divided fanbase, was allowed to do something without the eyes of the world automatically on him. It shows. Johnson's best sensibilities as a filmmaker are dialed in here and he shows us why Lucasfilm entrusted him with Star Wars in the first place.
This is pure entertainment. Plain and simple. It's wildly funny, engaging and feels like something we just don't see all that often. Not just a collection of lovable stars, but the kind of movie that is increasingly disappearing in a franchise dominated landscape. People go see big franchise movies to be entertained. For my money, Knives Out offers at least the level of bang-for-buck that comes with a satisfying blockbuster, if not more so. Don't let this one slip through the cracks. Knives Out arrives in theaters from Lionsgate on November 27.