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In Theaters: KNIVES OUT (2019)

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KNIVES OUT
(US - 2019)

Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Margaret Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Frank Oz, Edi Patterson, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, Marlene Forte. (PG-13, 130 mins)

Pop culture artifacts have always served as accurate reflections of the era in which they were produced, and when the dust settles, the wildly and wickedly entertaining KNIVES OUT will go down as one of the most razor-sharp critiques of the Age of Trump. It may draw from the mysteries of Agatha Christie and play like an elaborate redux of CLUE, but with its cast of greedy, deplorable heirs content to live off Daddy's wealth and fame, and the daughter of an illegal immigrant who ends up the target of their white privilege wrath, KNIVES OUT isn't exactly subtle. It's ultimately a perfect metaphor for the whole idea of the 2019-2020 now of this moment, not just in the political and social divide but also the rage and the malignant narcissism that have become commonplace, and it's best thing writer/director Rian Johnson has done since his 2006 debut BRICK. That's certainly not to slight 2012's LOOPER in any way, but perhaps after dealing with everything that came with making something as huge as STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, KNIVES OUT almost seems like a back-to-basics breather of sorts, even with its labyrinthine plot, endless twists and turns, and a large cast of characters with ever-shifting alliances and an eagerness to talk shit and throw everyone else under the bus.






It's best going into this sly whodunit as cold as possible, since the surprises start fairly early never stop (NO SPOILERS). World-famous mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by his housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) in his hidden study on the third floor of his mansion the morning after his 85th birthday party. The cause of death is assumed to be suicide as he appears to have slashed his own throat. Detective Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and doofus-y state trooper/Thrombey superfan Wagner (Noah Segan) are conducting a routine investigation of what looks like an open-and-shut case. But it quickly reveals almost the entire Thrombey clan to be a pit of vipers who, at best, are shamelessly salivating over their inheritance and, at worst, displaying no shortage of reasons to be glad the old man is gone. There's Thrombey's eldest child, daughter Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), who constantly crows about building her successful business on her own from the ground up even though everyone knows she started it with a $1 million loan from her dad; her husband Richard (Don Johnson), who had a testy private conversation with his father-in-law the afternoon of the party; Thrombey's son Walt (Michael Shannon), who manages his father's publishing house and is frustrated by his dad's refusal to allow movie and TV adaptations of his work despite being offered a ton of money by Netflix; Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) is a new age-y Instagram influencer and the widow of Thrombey's late son, and lives a cushy, carefree life on an annual allowance from her father-in-law, who also covers the college tuition of her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford); Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) is the son of Linda and Richard, the black sheep of the family and a lifelong problem child (as if the name "Ransom Drysdale" doesn't already render him pre-ordained to be a complete prick), who stormed out of the party after a verbal spat with his grandfather and then skips the funeral while making sure to show up for the reading of the will; and Walt's wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), and teenage son Jacob (Jaeden Martell), a Ben Shapiro-like alt-right troll who spends all of his time owning the libs on social media and calling his cousin Meg a "snowflake." Finally, there's Great Nana (K Callan), Harlan's mother ("His mother? How old is she?" Elliott asks Linda, who replies "No one knows"), who says almost nothing but sees everything.


The lone outsider is Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas, in what should be a star-making performance), Thrombey's caregiver who was hired after a recent back injury but who came to be a trusted friend and confidante to the old man. Everyone considers her "part of the family" even though they aren't entirely sure where she's from, alternately calling her Brazilian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, or Ecuadorian because they really don't know the difference. It isn't long before Elliott is deferring the investigation to one Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a wily Southern gentleman of a private eye and a bit of a celebrity in his field (a star-struck Joni gushes "I read a tweet about a New Yorker article about you!") who's been hired by an anonymous client to get to the bottom of an alleged suicide that's starting to look more and more like foul play. Blanc presses more than the ineffective cops when he rightly suspects that old Harlan went on a scorched earth bridge-burning with some his family on the day of his birthday and more than one family member's life would be a lot easier if he was no longer around. Blanc finds an unexpected Watson to his Holmes in Marta, who he deduces is the most trustworthy ally in the house because everyone in the Thrombey family knows she has a rare condition where she vomits if she tells a lie (and yes, that's mined for laughs on numerous occasions).


Almost everyone in the ensemble gets a chance to claim the spotlight, with de Armas (who's really the star of the movie) making a charming and resourceful heroine and Craig getting to show some comedic chops in a role that falls somewhere between Hercule Poirot and Jason Sudeikis' "Maine Justice" judge on SNL (Ransom: "What is this? CSI: KFC?"). KNIVES OUT masterfully balances suspense, blistering laughs at the expense of the 1% (multiple characters refer to Jacob as "the little Nazi," and watch Johnson's Trump-supporting Richard blast immigrants while thoughtlessly handing Marta his empty plate, proof that even when she's an invited guest at Thrombey's birthday party, they still only see her as "the help") and frequently self-aware humor, as when Elliott describes the Thrombey estate as "living in a Clue board" or when he reacts to an obligatory, out-of-nowhere car chase by declaring "That was the dumbest car chase ever." Johnson errs slightly by sidelining too many of the film's more vigorous supporting actors in the second half (Curtis, in particular, is on fire here, and we're long overdue for the Don Johnsonssaince that COLD IN JULY would've started in a perfect world), but the richly-textured and intricately-constructed KNIVES OUT is an absolute blast from beginning to end, culminating in a beautifully cathartic final shot that ends it on a perfect note.






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