Writer-director Rian Johnson has only made a handful of films, from his high-school noir debut Brick to the most recent Star Wars epic. Now he’s applied his ingenuity to an old-fashioned whodunit. As a longtime Agatha Christie fan he’s called on deep knowledge of the genre to craft his own, original “perfect crime” movie and laced it with humor from the very start.
The tone is set by Johnson’s casting, beginning with Daniel Craig as a cocky private eye with an accent one character disparagingly compares to Foghorn Leghorn. Craig seems to be having the time of his life indulging in this role, aiding the mostly-clueless detectives on the case, and the feeling is infectious. Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon are the key family members whose shaky relationship with patriarch Christopher Plummer propels the story and they all have their moments… but but the costar who ties Craig for good-humored indulgence in a juicy role is Chris Evans, as one of Plummer’s wastrel grandsons.
The primary setting is a curio-filled mansion, decorated to a fare-thee-well by production designer David Crank and art director Jeremy Woodward. They too seem to have had fun following the “more is more” outlook of their director.
Knives Out is intended as mainstream entertainment but Johnson has woven a hot-button topic into the fabric of his script, involving Central American immigrant Ana de Armas as Plummer’s devoted caregiver. The conversations that arise give us one more reason to dislike the coddled offspring who are all suspects in this high-profile murder.
I find most movies too long and yearn for the days when Charlie Chan solved murder cases in less than 90 minutes. Johnson’s role models were the all-star exploits of Hercule Poirot which, like this one, weighed in at over two hours so I really can’t quibble. Despite a surfeit of detail and story rebounds, Knives Out is never, ever dull and offers the kind of classy entertainment we could use more of on the big screen. And I have a feeling we’ll see more of Daniel Craig’s colorful character down the road.