Half the fun of a whodunnit is finding out who done it, so please god, if you have not seen this movie and want to (you do!!), do not read this!
The other half of the fun is watching the actors have fun. Is a rollicking murder mystery the most fun you can have as an actor? I look at Clue, I look at this, I think: maybe so. There are a number of movies I might describe as feeling like a play, and usually what I mean is not what I mean here: Knives Out feels like a movie performed by a company. An ensemble that all got together for a few weeks in a big house to make a feature. Which is essentially how this actually went, because Rian Johnson is by all accounts a delight that everyone wants to work with, and he saw he had a window and said, be there? And they said, WITH BELLS ON.
I love that this is nearly a movie without a lead character, but that there actually is and it’s Marta. Ana de Armas is essentially playing the straight-man role and that can be pretty thankless sometimes, but not in her hands! She is so cute, she is so funny, she is so nauseous. The girl spends a whole sequence bopping around the grounds of the Thrombey mansion wearing this long color-block knit scarf and her weird winter capris over socks & sneakers looking for all the world like a mash-up of several different Doctors Who. I love her. I love Marta so much that my two (2) quibbles with this movie are things I think were a disservice to her: 1) I did not need her to soothe Meg and tell her it was okay that she sold her out, and 2) I really wish we’d learned what country her family had actually immigrated from. You can keep the ongoing joke at the Thrombeys’ expense that they keep naming different places, and just give Marta a little hero moment in the latter part where she sets the record straight. But that said, that final shot of her with a blanket around her shoulders like a cozy cloak, standing on the balcony above them and almost understatedly raising the ‘My House My Rules’ mug to her lips, was Perfect Beautiful Triumphant. As warming as whatever was in that mug!! I laughed and my laugh was a CHEER.
Meanwhile: Everyone else. God they are having such a good time. Daniel Craig’s performance, as Glenn Weldon put it, is the honey-baked ham at the center of this movie, and it is delicious. Benoit Blanc. Benoit Blanc. But you know what? I didn’t think he was the funniest one. Because this movie contains Toni Collette, nailing every. fucking. line reading. I think our theater laughed at the end of 90% of her deliveries. A masterpiece. Lakeith Stanfield wearing a very nice coat and deploying his giant eyes in background reaction comedy was another highlight.
As was, good god, Christopher Evans, who was practically sparkling with glee in every one of his scenes. I mean he got arguably the most fun part:
– swan in halfway through, as obnoxious as an actual swan
– not give a fuck
– get to play that EXHILARATING thing where suddenly the unrepentant asshole is, oh of course, the only one renegade enough that you would consider aligning with him when he shows up in a pinch and offers you a ride
– aaannnd double-cross our heroine and prove to be the villain the whole dang time
Well except for the fact that Marta did in fact kill Harlan (a lovely turn from Christopher Plummer, like he knows another way to be), albeit only in the most inadvertent and be-tricked way possible, and holy–[kicks a chair over]–FUCK did I love that they showed us what happened so early! Turning the whole Christie mystery structure on its head! THIS SCRIPT IS KILLER.
Because really, Knives Out so fun, it’s so fun, but it’s also functional. I don’t know if that’s the word I mean. It is a classic genre piece but it is very fresh, it comes from right now. It’s a party pastiche with points to make. The whodunnit gone timely, where the knives may be false but the social commentary is plenty sharp enough to make up for it. The jokes, oh the jokes…top tier and aimed straight for those there. Twisty and romping yet with a gimlet eye, this is one of the cinematic gifts of the year.