Movie Guru: ‘Knives Out’ is a perfect murder mystery to scratch that twist-craving itch
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references and drug material
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and more
Grade: Four out of four stars
Few things are more satisfying than a good murder mystery.
If you’ve been craving the classic whodunit, then “Knives Out” is here to deliver. The twist-filled, entertaining plot surprises on several different levels, including the essential structure of the movie. Even better, it all wraps up into a wonderfully clever conclusion that is set up perfectly. The ending caught me completely by surprise, but when I looked back I was amazed I’d missed all the clues.
The movie opens with police calling people back in to a big house in the country. The owner had committed suicide the week before, but a detective has joined the case and wants to question everyone who was there that night. As family and associates retell their stories and remember what really happened, everyone involved must puzzle out what really happened. When a considerable inheritance is added to the mix, the stakes get even higher.
The trailer offers a good taste of the movie’s sense of fun, a living game of Clue with new life breathed into it. There’s a subtle exaggeration to everything, perfectly explained in-universe by the fact that the victim is a murder mystery writer. The pacing builds quickly, offering a giddy thrill for murder mystery fans.
What the trailer doesn’t reveal, however, is that the movie is also surprisingly emotional. There are some genuinely heartbreaking moments in the movie, particularly due to Ana de Armas and Christopher Plummer. Jamie Lee Curtis’s moments are the most unexpected, however, due to her ability to balance comic brittleness with genuine grief.
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All of that cleverly disguises the fact that the movie is meticulously constructed. It might not seem that way as you’re watching, given the movie’s screwball quality and a few unexpected decisions by director Rian Johnson. It’s only afterward that you realize that the best chaos is carefully planned out in advance, making sure the seemingly random timing all comes off exactly when it should.
The cast is also a key part of making the magic happen. The movie is jam-packed with talent, and Johnson takes advantage of all of it. Daniel Craig is both warmer and funnier than I’ve possibly ever seen him, and Michael Shannon is an absolute treasure. Don Johnson is more interesting than he’s been in years, and Chris Evans, known for playing Captain America, will surprise anyone who hasn’t ventured beyond his Marvel appearances into his indie film roles.
If you don’t love mysteries, this might be the one that changes your mind. If you do love mysteries, settle in with a notepad and paper and see if you can solve this one. If you can figure out which clues are actually important, you just might be able to pull it off.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.