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Knives Out

Year: 2019
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Katherine Langford, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Frank Oz, M Emmet Walsh

I'd never have imagined Rian Johnson would have a hankering to spend his Star Wars: The Last Jedi cachet on a Miss Marple/Agatha Christie style whodunit complete with wealthy misfit suspects and a genteel Cluedo-style aesthetic.

You can see how the labyrinthine plots of the genre (to the extent there is one – I only know one other example in recent years in Ken Brannagh's Murder on the Orient Express remake) would appear to a writer/director, but even after Brick, Looper and The Brothers Bloom I couldn't have guessed this would be the long gestating passion project it looks like for him.

And while the cast and design are all interesting, the execution of the plot isn't as good as I expected. I was waiting for something incredibly tightly wound where every word and character tic would be part of the unravelling mystery, and especially for a giant twist reveal that would pull the whole movie out from underneath you, one made up of the constituent clues scattered around but which you'd never have guessed.

Instead it felt a bit like it set up a group of suspects and then explained in a fairly workmanlike manner how one of them is the killer. I was waiting for the story to be cleverer in revealing something you never expected.

It tells the story of the death of an acclaimed mystery thriller writer celebrating a big birthday (Christopher Plummer), the colourful family members who descend on his gothic manor house for the party, and the kindly Hispanic nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) who's the only one he really trusts.

Various kids and grandkids are swirling around, and in most cases the outsized personalities fit seamlessly into the proceedings, like that of Joni's (Toni Collette) Age of Aquarius airhead. But others, like the detective Benoit (Daniel Craig) the cops bring in to consult but who's really there to sniff the truth out, don't work. Craig is an effective movie star but he's one of those actors you can see acting when he tries, and his deep south accent was frankly stupid, an add-on to the characterisation that didn't need to be there.

He's bought in because Harlan (Plummer) shows up dead the morning after the party, apparently poisoned. As the cops and Benoit dig deeper – especially in talking to the soft spoken Marta, who keeps her head down but doesn't miss much – Harlan's son Walt (Michael Shannon), daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson), daughter in law Joni and grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) are all revealed to have motives to bump the old man off.

The movie seems to let the air out of its own sails by showing us the truth about how Harlan died about halfway through, but it's all just more chronology construction to keep you guessing about what's really gone on.

To the film's credit you do indeed keep guessing, but when you learn the truth it feels a bit like a letdown, like Johnson just couldn't think of a better way to end the story. The only thing I can attribute all the critical love to is so many beloved performers in one place at once.

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