'Knives Out' has good mystery payoff

Lionsgate Daniel Craig stars as private investigator Benoit Blanc in the new mystery film, “Knives Out,” as part of an ensemble cast.

I love a good Whodunnit.

The popular book when I was in sixth grade was “The Westing Game,” a classic mystery novel right up there with the 1980s “Clue” adaptation for all-time go-tos for any young detectives out there.

While the sixth graders might not be allowed into Rian Johnson’s entry into the genre with the Pg-13-rated “Knives Out,” it can still be enjoyed by the appropriate ages.

Johnson, who has made enthralling films such as “Looper,” and some of the best episodes in television history like the perfectly filmed “Ozymandias” episode of “Breaking Bad,” does a fine job of making a mystery thriller.

With an ensemble cast of all types of different personalities – which helped the dysfunctional family bit – it could have gone horribly wrong had Johnson made a mystery too easy or not let some of his actors breathe, but somehow he pulled it off. He made a film that entertains both the sleuth out there and the average viewer, and for that I applaud him.

The Mr. Boddy in this film is Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a mystery novel-writing patriarch of a family that constantly has him at wit’s end. We open with Harlan being found dead by his housekeeper, causing the family to come back into town for the funeral and more importantly to them, the reading of the will.

First, though, the police have some unfinished business. That is, the police who have been urged by renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc to reopen the case after Blanc was paid anonymously to take the case.

Blanc is portrayed by Daniel Craig – who like his time in “Logan Lucky,” absolutely loves to don the voice of a southern gentleman and all that entails. Craig is having a ball in this film, constantly one move ahead of most of the subjects in the family, but he toys with them anyway.

Early on, he pits family member against family member, looking for the truth and enlisting the aid of Harlan’s caretaker Marta Cabrera (Ana De Armas), to help him in his investigation.

The investigation has many twists and turns, paying off in a satisfying ending that is worthy of the Whodunnit moniker.

What I liked:

Well, the cast picks for once, but first let me give a shoutout to de Armas. Yes, Craig gets much of the marketing – along with Chris Evans – but de Armas carries the film in her own right. I only saw her once before in the wonderfully crafted “Blade Runner 2049,” but I hope to see her in more.

Onto the rest of this huge ensemble, there is Harlan’s kids played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon. Curtis is the firstborn who thinks the rest of her family isn’t pulling their own weight while Shannon plays the son whose job is just to run his family’s business, which to everyone else feels like charity. Don Johnson plays Curtis’ husband and Toni Collete is the wife of Harlan’s deceased son, as she portrays the daughter-in-law who constantly needles the other members of the family.

The grandchildren are Curtis and Johnson’s son Ransom (Evans), who is delightfully malicious after years of playing clean-cut Captain America; Collete’s daughter played by Katherine Langford, a stereotypical millennial; and Shannon’s son played by Jaeden Martell, a ‘very political’ teenager.

I like the dialogue for the most part and the setting of the movie as the Thrombey’s mansion has a great aura for mystery.

What I didn’t like:

Although I like what Johnson did in terms of navigating this large cast, I do feel like maybe a few characters could have been delved into more, mainly the police officers played by Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan, the housekeeper (Edi Patterson), Langford’s character and Martell’s character, who only have a few lines compared to everyone else.

My score: 92/100

Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.

Jordan Bishop is the assistant news editor for the Stillwater News Press and can be reached at jbishop@stwnewspress.com.

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