By all accounts, Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” should not have been such a stunning success. It’s an original murder mystery with an eye toward paying tribute to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie, and yet it’s such a brilliant work of cinema through and through. “Knives Out” is a traditionalist murder mystery ensemble piece but one that also evokes modern sensibility without resorting to pandering to a younger audience. You’re either in for the ride with “Knives Out,” or you’re not as it takes its time unfolding what is a sly, slick and fantastic crime thriller that kept me grinning from ear to ear from beginning to end.
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the enigmatic Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate from an unidentified employer. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death. With a young nurse Marta dropped smack dab in the middle of the apparent murder, Benoit learns that there’s so much more to this mystery than what we see.
“Knives Out” felt so much like Rian Johnson’s own tribute to “Murder on the Orient Express” where he casts an all star ensemble of brilliant actors to portray some of the shiftiest characters and scoundrels around. Daniel Craig unwittingly brings to life a character with immense possibility to become the next great cinematic detective as Benoit Blanc, an eccentric albeit brilliant man who always seems to be working in the background. Blanc is a thorn on the side of the Thromby family, and writer Johnson brings us through this elaborate murder mystery which involves an affluent white family scraping for the inheritance of their elderly father and the meek immigrant maid that just might take the fall.
Not a single cast member is wasted here, including Plummer as the center of the mystery while Chris Evans (a bonafide scene stealer), Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, and Michael Shannon respectively, manage to wonderfully bring to life such despicable money grubbers. They’re all racing to collect a lifetime of fortune from their ailing father and Blanc alongside Lakeith Stanfield’s Lieutenant Elliot is convinced there’s so many more dimensions present. Johnson touches very subtly the social dynamics between wealth white heirs and their indentured servants, centering on De Armas’ latinx nurse who is pulled in every corner when Blanc takes great interest in her role in Thromby’s death.
De Armas is a great protagonist who can never seem to know who to trust exactly, and the delivery of her response to lying is one of the better running gags of the film, especially with how it is so instrumental in the climax. In the age of sequels, remakes, reboots, and adaptations, “Knives Out” is a breath of fresh air packed tightly with wit, dark humor, and surprises aplenty. It’s easily one of the best films of 2019.