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Knives Out

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Knives Out
dir-scr Rian Johnson
prd Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson
with Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Edi Patterson,
K Callan, Frank Oz
release US/UK 27.Nov.19
19/US Lionsgate 2h10

craig de-armas evans
TORONTO FILM FEST
london film fest


langford, collette, johnson, shannon, curtis and martell
A bit of silly good fun, this twist on the whodunit has a fiendishly constructed script packed with surprises, plus an superb ensemble of nutty characters. Some elements are too broad for their own good, but writer-director Rian Johnson makes a film that's consistently amusing as it keeps the audience on its toes. It also gently brushes on some topical themes just to keep it relevant.
When bestselling mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) is found dead after his 85th birthday party, police think it's a suicide. But Detective Elliott (Stanfield) and private eye Blanc (Craig) have a couple of days to look into it, interviewing the family members and discovering motives and suspicious behaviour on all sides. Because she's incapable of lying, Harlan's nurse Marta (de Armas) helps with the investigation, knowing that she's actually responsible. And when the reading of the will drops a bombshell, gloves come off and knives come out.
The movie plays up the comedy with hilariously barbed dialog and acidly funny interaction, so each scene bristles with rivalry, sarcasm, bitterness and what passes for love in this family. Harlan's pinched children Linda and Walt (Curtis and Shannon), Linda's over-talking husband Richard (Johnson) and loose-limbed widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Collette) watch each other warily, as do grandkids Ransom (Evans), Meg (Langford) and Jacob (Martell). There's also their ancient Great Nana (Callan) and a pot-smoking maid (Patterson) in the mix. And all of them are shifty, capable and rather goofy.

Craig delivers by far the most camp performance in the film, hamming it up relentlessly as the too-Southern Blanc. Thankfully, many of his scenes are with the grounded de Armas, as the most likeable person involved in this mess. Evans has a strong role as well, sparking all kinds of cynical mayhem. The other roles are smaller, but each offers a chance for expert scene-chewing, so each actor earns his or her laughs.

It's enjoyable to watch these privileged snobs squirm. Linda, Loni and Walt are under the delusion that they're self-made, even though Harlan seeded, funded or enabled their successes. The next generation believes it's entitled to money. By contrast, the immigrant Marta worries about her mother's legal status as the police begin snooping around. That's about as deep as politics run in this film. But Johnson has devised this as an entertaining puzzle box of a movie that also happens to be relentlessly hilarious, from the snappy put-downs to a properly ludicrous car chase.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 9.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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