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Rian Johnson trades in lightsabers for postmodern whodunnit Knives Out

“What is this, CSI: KFC?” Chris Evans joins an all-star cast in modern murder mystery Knives Out.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, topping the box office in 2017. So writer-director Rian Johnson pretty much had carte blanche for his next project. And he opted for a palate cleanser of sorts: a postmodern take on the classic whodunnit, called Knives Out. Think Clue meets Murder on the Orient Express, both of which the director has cited as influences.

It’s not as much of a radical departure for Johnson as it might seem. His debut feature film, Brick (2005), was a crime drama with film noir overtones, largely inspired by the works of Dashiell Hammett and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (The actor would go on to star in Johnson’s third film, 2012’s Looper.) For Brick, Johnson had his actors read Hammett and watch classic screwball comedies like His Girl Friday to bring a lighter touch to the traditional noir genre. Now, he seems to have brought something of that same sensibility—mixing dark subject matter with a lighter touch—to Knives Out.

Knives Out features a premise worthy of the grande dame of murder mysteries herself, Agatha Christie. Various extended family members gather at the family estate to celebrate their patriarch Harlem Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) 85th birthday. Said patriarch dies unexpectedly later that night. Could it be foul play? Det. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) certainly thinks so, and he detains the entire family in the mansion until he completes his investigation.

Naturally, the surviving family members are none too happy about this, since they don’t particularly get along. “You all love twisting the knife into one another,” Det. Blanc observes, interviewing the family members one by one in front of an ominous sculpture made entirely of knives, reminiscent of the Iron Throne. “It’s a twisted web, and we have not finished untangling it, not yet.”

Johnson has assembled an impressive cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, a delightfully foul-mouthed Chris Evans, Toni Collette casting shade, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langford, M. Emmet Walsh, and Frank Oz. Craig’s southern accent isn’t quite convincing, but overall this looks like it could be a terrific diversion for a long Thanksgiving weekend.

Knives Out hits theaters November 27, 2019.

Listing image by YouTube/Lionsgate