Is there any genre stuffier than the whodunit? The word alone conjures up images of old English manors, bloody kitchen utensils, a butlers who know far more than they let on. I for one struggled to imagine how anything so preposterous could happen since the invention of the cell phone.

These trepidations caused me to approach Rian Johnson‘s latest feature with a degree of caution — how well could a movie like this send up its predecessors while still treading new ground? The answer is, well, pretty darn well.

Knives Out centers on the family of the Christopher Plummer-played Harlan Thrombey, a celebrated writer of murder mysteries. Thrombey, for all his gifts as a writer, was not so successful in raising his family. Each of his children is unlikable in their own special way: Jamie Lee Curtis‘s Linda is goal-oriented to a fault, Michael Shannon‘s Walt is like a parasite on Harlan’s career, and Toni Collette, as the widow of Harlan’s deceased son, seems like your local cutthroat Avon representative.


Also among the Clue characters are Chris Evans as Harlan’s semi-prodigal grandson, Katherine Langford as his granddaughter, and Don Johnson as Linda’s eye-roll of a husband. While not immediately apparent, each character has their own personal brand of unsavoriness that give them all suspicious connections to the film’s starting-off point: Harlan’s apparent suicide.

Unsurprisingly, all is not exactly how it seems. The arrival of famed private detective Benoit Blanc (played by a perfectly camp Daniel Craig) signals that murder might be afoot, and that Harlan’s nurse Marta (given a real air of sincerity by Ana de Armas) might know more than she’s letting on.

Without giving too much away, the ensuing plot is serpentine enough to wrap around its audience several times over. Johnson’s Oscar-nominated script perfectly walks the line between parody and invention, with the moments of humor being mixed in perfectly with the twists.

Perhaps the most rewarding parts of the film, though, are the moments in which it starts to take itself seriously. For all of the pastiche, Knives Out has a deeper message to it — one that’s not easy to anticipate but is glaringly obvious by the time the credits roll. All credit and more goes to Johnson for managing to somehow incorporate elements of every known genre into this film without things getting to muddled along the way. Knives Out has an unexpected — but not at all unwelcome —  political edge that takes its well-used format and transports it unambiguously to the present day.

That being said, something does get lost amidst the film’s sprawling cast and jam-packed script. Few characters are allotted enough screen time to be fleshed out into anything significant, so the audience is forced to turn what amount to small chunks of dialogue into the understanding of a whole person. The two characters given the most life — Marta and Benoit – are themselves a bit too simple to be truly compelling. While Knives Out‘s moments of impact are more than appreciated in a genre usually devoid on any, there is the underlying feeling that it likely could’ve gone further.

Johnson demonstrated his love for genre-tributes with his earlier noir-ish feature Brick, but Knives Out represents a whole new step for him as an artist. The film manages to be as playful as it is surprising as it is emotional is it is stirring — a cinematic cocktail not easy to forget.

The Blu-Ray itself is also well worth the price of admission. It features two separate director’s commentaries by Johnson, a couple of deleted scenes, a Q&A with the cast, and an 8-part “Making a Murder” documentary to boot.

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