“Knives Out” is a bit like a pyramid scheme: immediately after you enter it, you will begin making a list of friends, family members, and casual acquaintances whom you might be able to cajole, bribe, or threaten into joining you in it. If you have no friends, you may be tempted to start waylaying people on the street and dragging them into the theater by the hair. Do. It’s a public service.
Rian Johnson’s latest movie is a master class in immersion, characterization, pacing—everything that keeps you nailed to your seat long past when your bladder might otherwise pull you away. Within a few minutes of the credit sequence, you’ll think you have a handle on the simple, “Clue”-like structure of the plot, a dinner-party murder in a house full of trust-funded vipers. At fifteen minutes, your understanding of the plot will rotate nearly ninety degrees. At thirty minutes, it will rotate again. By halfway through, you will be rooting for an entirely different group of characters than you were at the beginning of the movie. And by the end of the movie, you will have been transformed into a ravenous “Knives Out” fanatic, ready to scream the good word of this movie on the street while wearing a sandwich board.
A few of this movie’s delights can be spoken of without spoiling any major surprises: Daniel Craig as famous sleuth Benoit Blanc, chewing on a Kentucky accent that should be sold in pouches. Ana de Armas as wide-eyed nurse Marta Cabrera, a sort of human polygraph who vomits whenever she tells a lie. Christopher Plummer as patriarch Harlan Thrombey, a writer of mysteries whose death catapults his family into one. Michael Shannon as Harlan’s cowed son Walt Thrombey, a case study in thwarted aggression. And, of course, Australian treasure Toni Collette as daughter-in-law Joni Thrombey, a dubiously successful Instagram influencer whose New Agey rhetoric ramps up in direct proportion to her sense of panic. All these, plus a top-of-their-games Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Katherine Langford, contribute to create a family that feels at once dysfunctional, and united in their dysfunction: you will find yourself both hating these people, and wanting to attend every Thanksgiving at their house. Here’s hoping that by next year, Benoit Blanc will have found a new nest of pit vipers to disturb. I nominate the Kushners.