Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh
Written by: Rian Johnson
Directed by: Rian Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material
Running Time: 130
Date: 11/27/2019

Knives Out (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Maze o' Blades

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This delightful, hilarious, clever mystery-comedy is a total entertainment, with expert, precision work at every level, but also with an irresistible, gleeful sense of fun bursting from the screen.

In Knives Out, wealthy and successful crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) celebrates his 85th birthday with his family, but at the party, he argues with just about everyone over money, or business, or other things. Later, he is found with his throat slit, and Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Richard (Don Johnson), Walt (Michael Shannon), Joni (Toni Collette), and Ransom (Chris Evans) are all suspects.

Master detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called in to solve the seemingly impossible case. The key to the mystery, he realizes, lies with Marta (Ana de Armas), who was Harlan's nurse and caretaker, and who has a condition that causes her to vomit whenever she tells a lie. The reading of the will sends a shockwave throughout the family, and Blanc finds his final, elusive clue when the murderer prepares to strike again.

After taking Star Wars to a new level with The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper) appears fully refreshed on Knives Out, with his feet on the ground and staying mostly in one beautiful location. From the ground up, he has crafted a solid moviegoing experience, starting with a sparkling gem of a screenplay. An Agatha Christie-inspired tale, its mystery is airtight enough to puzzle most whodunit buffs.

But the movie is also beautifully balanced among its excellent cast, with each member feeling appealingly human and shining in individual moments. Visually, Knives Out is splendid, fluid in the way it moves around the nooks and crannies of the huge house, and also when it lingers on its unforgettable "wheel of knives" centerpiece. The music by Nathan Johnson (Rian's cousin) is equally effective.

Old-fashioned on the surface, the movie is nevertheless rooted in the modern-day, with several smart, sane references to current insanity. Finally, it's clearly designed for multiple viewings, not only to catch the many sly jokes, but also the many concealed clues. If Knives Out has a flaw, it's that the movie is so effortless it might feel lightweight.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release is an essential item, packed with enough extras that it compares with some of the most spectacular releases of the glory days of DVDs. Aside from the bonus digital copy and DVD, the Blu-ray (with impressive picture and sound) includes two commentary tracks, an in-theater commentary by director Johnson, and a second track with Johnson, director of photography Steve Yedlin, and actor Noah Segan. There are 5 minutes of deleted scenes, a multi-part behind-the-scenes documentary, "Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder," a director and cast Q&A, trailers, viral ads, and more.

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