Knives Out ★★★★★

I was underwhelmed by the initial trailer, but I was still interested. I believe that Rian Johnson is a somewhat overrated filmmaker, but I have still enjoyed all of his films. (I pre-ordered the upcoming special edition blu-ray of "Brick" from Kino Lorber.) But I love whodunits, from "Clue" to the excellent "Murder on the Orient Express" (the Kenneth Branagh version, which I cannot recommend highly enough).

I figured "Knives Out" would be good, and I wanted to see it in the theater because my wife loves whodunits more than I do so I knew this would be a good date movie. But, oh man, I did NOT expect "Knives Out" to rule as thoroughly as it does.

The plot is pretty standard whodunit fare at a glance: someone is dead and a legendary detective with a glowing reputation for solving complex crimes (Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig with a delicious Southern accent) has been summoned to figure out who killed him. Virtually everyone who was present at the dead author's birthday party had a motive to kill him, which makes solving the murder difficult (if it was easy, this wouldn't be much of a whodunit).

There are twists and turns, and they are wonderful, but mostly I just love how Rian Johnson constructs a diabolically clever, insightful, and subtly political murder mystery that manages to push the genre into the 21st Century (with references to tweets and cell phones and the like) without sacrificing the core fundamentals of what makes the whodunit genre so distinctive and engaging and durably entertaining. Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc is a highly intelligent and properly colorful detective, and that's a crucial aspect of what makes the genre so much fun. Like many others have said, I would love to see a new Benoit Blanc mystery every couple of years or so, and it seems that Daniel Craig would love that too. He's having a blast, cutting lose and being downright silly at times (example: his frequent and giggle-inducing utterance of the word "doughnut") and savoring every syllable of his cracking dialogue. The rest of the characters are colorful and amusing as well, and every other actor seems to be having a ball with the character they've been given. Ana De Armas is the surprising lead of the film, however, and she's terrific. She's not quite as colorful as the rest of the characters, she doesn't get most of the great lines or the big moments, but she is the heart and soul of the movie and we are so immersed in her and her various sticky situations that the movie resonates a lot deeper than a mere genre exercise, or a twisty little riff on murder mystery tropes. It has a depth of feeling and uncommon intelligence that sets it miles apart from most of its genre.

Though, honestly, the genre has been so underrepresented in recent years that just seeing a well-crafted murder mystery is great enough. But there's ever so much more to recommend about "Knives Out". The characters are great, the plot seems solid as a drum but still flows like Life (unpredictable and seemingly made up as it goes along, though every element falls perfectly into place by the finale and proves that not a moment or element has been superfluous), the cinematography is excellent, the production design adds flavor and atmosphere, the pacing is fantastic (I was skeptical going in that this movie needed to be over two hours, but not a moment was wasted and I was thoroughly involved at every second) and the cast is superb.

I'm not even going to talk about the most ingenious aspect of the film, the political overtones, because it would spoil the story and this story deserves to be experienced and have its superb surprises catch every audience member off guard. I say the political overtones are subtle because, although there is a divisive Trump discussion at one point during the film, I didn't realize exactly what this story could mean until hours later, when I awoke in the middle of the night, re-evaluated the plot and its outcome from a fresh angle, and realized just how timely yet timeless it really was. I loved "Knives Out" completely on my first viewing, but it's one of those movies that I feel is just going to get better and disclose more secrets with each viewing. It feels like a movie meant to be examined from a variety of angles and enjoyed for a variety of aspects, and I can't wait to see it again. At this point, I can't think of a single flaw with this film, a single element or moment that wasn't perfect for the story being told. I believe it is Rian Johnson's best movie by a vast margin.

Also, it reminded me just how much I love the song "Sweet Virginia" by the Rolling Stones, and I've been listening to it quite a bit in the days since.

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