* * * * 1/2
Rian Johnson is forging a cool career as a genre auteurist whose films are in different genres. Thus Brick was his noir, The Brothers Bloom his romantic con-artist romp, Looper his time travel brain-buster, The Last Jedi his space opera, and now Knives Out his whodunnit. In each case – even on his Star Wars gig – he simultaneously celebrates and subverts the genre, adhering to its conventions while spinning the material in a fresh way. He’s only 46, and he’s ludicrously talented.
And Knives Out is ludicrously fun. Johnson’s found the perfect old house in Massachusetts to set his murder mystery; he’s stacked it with props that directly reference, and may even be, the props from Sleuth (1972), which was also one of my favourite twisty movies as a kid; he’s engaged a fun-loving ensemble of glitterati; and then there’s his subversions, spins and extrapolations, none of which I’ll reveal, save one: the poster may imply a true ensemble, but this film has a protagonist and a star, and that’s Ana De Armas (who you hopefully remember fondly from Blade Runner 2049 as Ryan Gosling’s AI girlfriend). The second most prominent character here is played by Daniel Craig, and he shares a lot of scenes with De Armas, essentially supporting her, which is super fun, because she’ll soon be doing the same for him in No Time To Die, the next Bond film (and Craig’s last).
This film is super satisfying. It’s funny, the mystery plot really works, and it also has something to say, which it does with enjoyably righteous anger. Go for the production design and the plot, leave being blown away by De Armas and, once again, Johnson, one of America’s finest. This might be his best film; it’s one of 2019’s most entertaining.