by Alan Yudman
Rian Johnson has a lot of undeserved hate for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. I don’t know if he was on mission to prove the haters wrong (actually I don’t think he was at all. He liked TLJ and thought he did a great job), but KNIVES OUT proves his bonafides as a filmmaker.
This Agatha Christie-style whodunnit keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Who killed mystery author Harlan Thrombey? Did anyone kill him? Did he commit suicide? Oh no. You are not going to get me to spoil this twisty mystery. You are just going to have to watch it for yourself. But this is about so much more than solving the puzzle. It is about family dynamics, immigration, lying and betrayal. But it does all that while making you laugh. A lot.
This is a heavyweight cast. Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, LaKeith Stanfield and Edi Patterson. But the “star” of the movie is relative newcomer Ana de Armas. She is Marta, the nurse who takes care of Plummer’s Harlan and is there when he dies. The plot revolves around who will get Harlan’s inheritance and the question of whether he killed himself or not. De Armas doesn’t seem even a little intimidated by her co-stars. She is innocent, yet tough and she learns how to survive in this crazy family. Craig employs a Foghorn Leghorn-type accent to great effect. He comes off as folksy, yet smart and cunning.
The way Johnson choses to make a political statement is very sly. Marta’s mom could be deported, which is held over her head as a blackmail tool at one point. And while the family claims Marta is one of them, they can’t even remember what country she is from. It not so subtly skewers the privileged class and the way they see their subordinates as merely comfortable pieces of furniture.
Johnson’s screenplay is amazing. He could have tried this and failed spectacularly. The audience could have been so confused that it would have taken them out of the movie. That never happens. Johnson makes it twisty, but not overly complex. That means it is easy to follow and you are surprised as everyone else when the mystery is finally solved.
The set design and cinematography are also quite excellent. The house chosen as the Thrombey estate is perfect. It has weird nooks and crannies, multiple staircases and hidden doorways. It really adds to the feel.
Johnson received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay and I could see it winning, but the Academy will probably go with a more traditional choice like Quentin Tarantino. That’s a shame, because KNIVES OUT is a well written, well directed film that is one of my favorites of the year.