Knives Out

There's nothing but fun to be had in Rian Johnson's modern spin on the classic whodunnit, in which a wealthy author of mystery novels (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study, his throat slashed and yet ruled a suicide, and of course several members of his terrible family have motives for killing him.

A private detective (Daniel Craig, relishing his role as a Southern gentleman), made famous by a New Yorker article, is brought up to the family home in Massachusetts to assist the police in the investigation, even though he admits to the cops that he doesn't even know who hired him. He finds himself teaming up with the late author's caregiver (Ana de Armas), seemingly the only decent person in the old man's orbit (she can't tell a lie without vomiting!), although she has her own secrets regarding his death.

Knives Out starts as a whodunnit, then becomes a sort of anti-whodunnit, then finally circles back to the genre's tropes. Johnson's script is fabulously witty and intricate, and if I could guess at some of the twists early on, it didn't stop me from enjoying the storytelling or the delicious performances by a game cast that includes Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Toni Collette. Yet it is de Armas who provides the heart and soul of the film, holding strong even as the family pecks at her from all sides. (It's a running joke in the film that no one in this privileged, self-serving clan knows what country her character hails from; de Armas herself is Cuban.)

Johnson may have toned down the baroque visual theatrics from his earliest work, yet he still clearly understands the impact of a well-framed shot or a well-timed cut. Knives Out engenders as many laughs from its sight gags as it does from its bitchy dialogue and social commentary. Although it is designed to entertain, not haunt or linger, I suspect it will prove to be compulsively rewatchable over the coming years.