'Knives Out' review: Rian Johnson aces this 'whodunnit'

Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas
Score: 4/5

The whodunnit sub-genre of crime fiction is one of the best things mankind has created. There's always a sense of exhilaration in turning the pages of a book or watching events unfold in a film in this little corner.

Rian Johnson's Knives Out is a clear testament to this. The film is like a maze or a puzzle box, where every turn you think is a step towards the exit or a solution, it's really just another step into another corner of the maze and you never quite realise it till one key clue falls into your hands.

The film begins with a death in the family. Specifically, the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), an author whose eccentricity is matched only by his success. The discovery of his body brings his family together like a pack of sympathetic vultures who really just want bits of his wealth in a very convincing guise of sadness.

The only ones who stand out here are Marta Cabrera (Armas) and Hugh 'Ransom' Drysdale (Evans, with the most unique middle name all year). They're like fish out of water, two peas in a pod or some other analogy of outcast-like characters presented alike. Hunting the truth is detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig with an obvious southern accent), who is bent on the death being foul play even though all signs point to a suicide.

What begins is a torrid cat-and-mouse chase which is more a mix of whodunnit and a locked-room mystery than a whole of either. The question here is not just who did it, but how they did it too.

Johnson, fresh off the heat from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, has clearly not had enough of subverting expectations. He crafts the mystery like a puzzle, filling each piece carefully with no wasted movement. In this case, the house itself is like a giant puzzle box, where the solution unravels with each turn of the problem, bringing with it some answers and even more pressing questions.

Every creak in the house, every tick of the characters tells a story in itself, and you're left to consider who actually did it, even when you're forced to take five steps back at times to get a clearer picture, and while the mystery itself is not much of a mystery, the manner of its execution is the star in this scenario.

Aside from Armas and Evans, the rest of the cast is very much stacked. There's Michael Shannon, doing his best impression of his General Zod at one point with the intimidation and shouting, while Chris Evans has gone from goody-two-shoes Captain America to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There's also an alt-right, an SJW left-liberal and a family split down the middle over the concept of (illegal) immigration. It's no wonder Thrombey died when he did, the family is insufferable at times, or at least that's the impression Johnson is trying to make here with the intent of triggering every stratum of the modern sociopolitical spectrum.

And as the crafting of the mystery is impeccable, the mystery itself is incredible in its progression and unraveling, following the classic tropes of these sub-genres in using characters, rather than settings, as Chekov's guns. You have to watch out for the small details and little words if you want to figure out the mystery before the film hands it on a platter to you, and that is a fulfilling task in itself.

To close, Knives Out is a strong contender if you feel like putting on your thinking cap over the weekend. It's got the drama down and the mystery well within its grasp, and with a cast like this one and the promise of an original property, there's really no reason to miss it.

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