A light whodunit for Thanksgiving.
Director: Rian Johnson (Star Wars: Episode VIII)
Cast: Daniel Craig (Skyfall), Chris Evans (Captain America)
Runtime: 2h 10m
By: John DeSando
“This is a twisted web, and we are not finished untangling it, not yet.” Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig
It’s tough to mix crime and humor, but writer/director Rian Johnson does it well with Knives Out. A spoof of Agatha-Christie-like murder mysteries involving family, Knives is sharp with off-handed humor, especially through the sleuth detective, Benoit Blanc, who has a dry delivery almost as irritating as his ersatz Southern accent.
The investigation afoot is the suicide of the patriarch, Harlan Twombly (Christopher Plummer), which Blanc suspects is a murder. The many relatives, all to benefit from a favorable will, are suspects. The house, of course, is gothic Victorian seen more than once from above in the now-common drone shots.
The humor comes in turning upside down our usual expectations for a whodunit. A suspect immediately arises, and the resolution comes with innocence in the forefront. Neither of those circumstances conform to the usual tropes, but added humor comes from the expert acting of those who deliver irony deftly and subtly and the contemporary references such as Baby Driver and Juuling to make it modern.
When Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) exclaims about Benoit, “I read a tweet about a New Yorker article about you,” current culture is updating the old mystery formula. And it’s all in good humor.
At times the dialogue flies between characters as if Robert Altman were running the show. Overlapping swift repartee can leave some of us behind, especially as we like to savor each word. Yet, the speed gives an energy to an otherwise not remarkably ingenious plot.
The contradictions to the mystery formula are often surprising and fun. After a full day of Thanksgiving, including the often-thrilling mysterious dinner, Knives is a welcome joy and reflection, happily neglecting to murder smart-aleck patriarchs like me.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com