‘Knives Out’ review: Rian Johnson returns to fold with thrilling, expertly-crafted whodunit

'The Last Jedi' director sticks two fingers up to his critics via a deliciously clever murder-mystery

Rian Johnson’s last film, 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. There are quite a few people who would disagree with that (very correct) sentence and Johnson has spent much of the past two years being berated by them on social media. Some even called for his film to be withdrawn and remade. It’s understandable that he would make his next project something as silly, fun and throwaway as Knives Out. It’s hard to imagine anyone managing to whisk up any sort of fury about it.

Knives Out is a daft, but also very clever, murder-mystery, packed with big stars, big laughs and – from Daniel Craig in particular – some very big acting. It takes place in a house so lavishly sinister that at one point it’s described, with the largest of winks, as “like a giant Clue board”. And so, of course, it is the scene of a murder.

One night, following a family celebration for his birthday, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead. Police suspect suicide, but there are honking whiffs of foul play. Any of Harlan’s relatives could be guilty, because they’re all awful. They include – deep breath – his angry, insecure daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis); her smug, sneaky husband, Richard (Don Johnson); their punchably arrogant son Ransom (Chris Evans); Harlan’s new age-capitalist daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette); and Harlan’s becardiganed disappointment other son, Walt (Michael Shannon). There are other Thrombeys, but we’d be here all day. Oh, there is also the guileless nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), the only one who Harland actually liked. Trying to work out whodunit is Craig as Benoit Blanc, a private detective. You may have guessed from the name that Blanc is from the Deep South, which gives Craig ample opportunity for a Foghorn Leghorn accent and great eccentricity. He has no intention of wasting it. He is a hoot.

Everything about this film is a hoot. Johnson’s control of so many characters and so many plot twists is extremely impressive, even more so for being so unshowy. He gets out of the film’s way and lets his story go haring off in all sorts of directions until it winds up at an ending that makes sense of a whole lot of madness that precedes it.

His script is as cool and oomphy as a well-made martini. In one especially good line, Joni sums up all her self-regarding idiocy by telling Blanc, “I once read a tweet about a New Yorker profile on you”. It is delicious, brilliantly constructed pure entertainment. See it and then tweet Johnson if you loved it. He could probably use the boost.

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