Old-fashioned fun is the order of the day in “Knives Out,” director Rian Johnson‘s ensemble cast whodunit. Sometimes sticking with a classic storytelling formula can be the best decision, and this straightforward, literal-minded mystery should appeal to just about everyone.
In a homage to Agatha Christie, this modern-day murder mystery takes place in the Thrombey mansion in Massachusetts. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his estate the evening of his 85th birthday, famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate. With the entire family and staff being treated as suspects, Blanc must evaluate each and every lie and truth to find out what really happened to the deceased patriarch. Greed is exposed and rivalries boil over, but was it really a murder, or simply a suicide?
The story unfolds unexpectedly, as the manner of death is revealed early on. The majority of the film is spent unraveling yet another big mystery and is told through a series of confessions, motives, and misdirections. It’s not particularly well structured, but the classic mystery clichés make the film easily accessible and very fun to watch. Then again, what isn’t inherently enjoyable about watching a family of entitled, rich jerks squirm?
The casting is on point, and every performance is top notch. It’s amusing to see Hollywood royalty performing as character actors or so strongly against type. Michael Shannon plays a weak younger brother, Toni Collette is a free spirited hippie type, and Craig is terrific at bringing a true Southern-fried swagger to his Poirot-style sleuth. The supporting turns from Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Chris Evans and are also strong, but it’s Craig who steals the show. His performance is over the top in the most enjoyable way possible.
Most everything here works and works well. The script is well-written and the film is well-directed, and the set design is one of the best things about the movie. As one character snarkily remarks in the film, it’s like the story takes place in a “real-life version of Clue.” It’s difficult to find much to criticize because it’s so enjoyable to watch.
Ultimately the film is not as clever as it thinks it is, and it’s a bit of a letdown when the big reveal and twist is finally exposed. But the crowd-pleasing “Knives Out” is entertaining if not entirely satisfying.