TIFF Review: Retro Whodunnit 'Knives Out' Is as Hilarious as It Is Clever Directed by Rian Johnson

Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson
TIFF Review: Retro Whodunnit 'Knives Out' Is as Hilarious as It Is Clever Directed by Rian Johnson
8
A murder disguised as a suicide, a pool of suspects with plenty to gain from the victim's death, and a charismatic detective who is as clever as he is quirky. Knives Out is a classic whodunnit in the mould of Agatha Christie, but with a self-aware sense of snark that injects hilarious new energy into the outmoded genre.
 
In a meta nod to the form, the film's victim is a murder mystery novelist living in a remote gothic manor — a bit like the Clue board brought to life, as one character points out. Harlan Thrombrey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead on his 85th birthday with his throat slit in an apparent suicide. His dysfunctional brood of kids and grandkids are all possible suspects, including the domineering Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), elitist black sheep Ransom (Chris Evans), and wellness guru daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette, with wonderfully exaggerated vocal fry).
 
Detective Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) is ready to declare the death a suicide, but investigator detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) swoops in with a Southern accent and a theory that something fishy is going on. He quickly aligns himself with Harlan's well-meaning South American nurse Ana de Armas — who he deems trustworthy, thanks to her icky habit of spewing chunks any time she tells a lie.
 
The star-studded ensemble cast all deliver lively, laugh-out-loud performances, but it's the wickedly clever script by Rian Johnson (who also directed) that's the true standout here. The complex crime comes together like a masterful puzzle, and Johnson cheekily subverts the retro whodunnit aesthetic with timely punch lines about JUUL-ing and alt-right online trolls. Modern issues about immigration and American racism factor heavily in the Thrombrey family's insufferable snobbery.
 
Knives Out has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, but with funny gags tied together by believable twists, the film is the best of both worlds: it's both a witty spoof of murder mysteries and an outstanding embodiment of the genre.
 
(Mongrel Media)