Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★★★

2019 movie viewings, #126. Are you tired of the halfwit superhero drivel that counts as screenwriting anymore in Hollywood? Then buddy, has Rian Johnson got a film for you! That's the good news about his delightfully unexpected follow-up to writing and directing a freaking Star Wars movie (2017's polarizing yet franchise-energizing The Last Jedi), his latest instead being a genre exercise with a #MeToo twist that has much more in common with early career highlights like Brick. For those who don't know, that's the 2005 no-budget indie that first got Johnson a lot of notice in the industry, a pitch-perfect replica of a hardboiled noir tale, only set among Millennial teens at a California high school; and now here, Johnson gives us a pitch-perfect replica of an Agatha Christie whodunit, only this time with the juiciest role going to a young woman of color (Ana de Armas, so memorable a few years ago as Ryan Gosling's hologram girlfriend in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049), a fact that would make Christie's 1930s lily-white audience spin in their graves.

I realize that that's a tiny bit of a spoiler, and I promise not to divulge anything more in this review about the movie's plot; but to be clear, I'm not indicating one way or the other whether de Armas is the hero or the villain, the killer or the one who catches the killer, merely that she's the one with the most lines, an astounding detail for a movie that also stars such Hollywood heavyweights as Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, and even more. This was extremely smart of Johnson to do, because frankly we don't actually need an exact replica of an Agatha Christie thriller in 2019, even if it is written with all the wit, darkness, and surprises that made that author the First Lady of Mystery a hundred years ago. What Johnson proves here is that this kind of story can still work exactly as well in an age of "diversity quotas" at the major studios, that making movies more inclusive doesn't have to mean diminishing them in quality, even when you take on genres that historically have represented white people at the absolute whitest they get.

Now add the fact that I would pay a thousand dollars to have Daniel Craig show up at my next dinner party and talk in his New Orleans accent the whole evening, a shockingly droll performance that is simply begging for an entire Benoit Blanc crime franchise to be built just around him; the usual exquisite attention to detail that Johnson brings to all his productions (oh my God, that house); and a whole cornucopia of lovingly clever references to the tropes of this genre (including one of the more original executions of the Chekhov's Gun Principle I've ever seen); and you've got yourself a strong and memorable winner here, destined to dominate this holiday season's box office as delighted audience members start telling their friends, who tell their friends, who tell their friends. Do yourself a favor and avoid all mentions of plot until then; because like Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, the less you know about what's going to happen, the more you're going to love this. And love it you will, a film that practically begs to be admired for how intelligent it is, and how slickly it's pulled off.

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