Rian Johnson may have made the best Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, since The Empire Strikes Back. But the fans found it too unusual for a Star Wars movie, and critics believed that it had too many plot holes for comfort. The recently released Rise of Skywalker was essentially an attempt to redress the wrongs Disney felt The Last Jedi had perpetrated.

So what did Johnson do?

He rolled up his sleeves and went back to what he does best: creating original characters and deliciously convoluted plots. Two years after The Last Jedi, he gives us Knives Out, a film that combines an eccentric detective, a dysfunctional family, a dead patriarch, his nurse and a large inheritance to give us the decade's best whodunit.

Daniel Craig plays Benoit Blanc (a quirky name for an investigator in the style of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), a private detective who receives mail with cash in it to investigate a crime at the Thrombey house.

The patriarch of the family, Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a mystery novel writer, has been found dead in his large mansion a night after his 85th birthday. The police ask some routine questions but are convinced that he committed suicide. Benoit believes otherwise.

A further inquiry into his children, played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon, and the private detective begins to suspect that something is afoot. An even deeper investigation into Harlan’s grandchildren, played by Chris Evans, Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell, and his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) reveals that there is indeed more to the suicide than meets the eye.

Through fantastic delivery, Benoit explains the feeling he has of a piece of the puzzle missing as a “doughnut hole in the doughnut’s hole.”

But Knives Out is not just a whodunit. It is also a movie about class struggles and family dynamics. Johnson weaves together a touching story about perseverance and morality in a film that a lesser writer would have left at who killed whom.

The film is much more in the style of his 2005 debut film Brick, in which a high school student investigates the death of his former girlfriend. The film was highly stylised. None of the characters seemed real (they were too quick-witted and well-spoken) and the plot was impossible to follow. The film was purely an exercise in hard-boiled detective storytelling.

Knives Out appeals more to a mainstream audience. The plot is convoluted enough to keep audiences guessing, but there are no fast-talking characters or multiple disorienting plot twists. It keeps audiences on their feet. If Brick was a 100m sprint race, Knives Out is a refreshing jog in the park, just enough to get the blood flowing.

Johnson’s ability to create eccentric characters is just as evident here. Craig has fun playing Benoit, a Southerner that is easily enraged, methodical and endlessly funny. A whole movie could be made of him just dropping strange phrases in a Southern gentleman's accent, and I would still watch it.

But it is Evans that manages to shine the most. He is not Captain America anymore. Playing the oldest of the patriarch’s grandchildren, he appears spoiled, entitled and aloof. But his character gets a second chance to change his life around when he befriends the nurse and helps her get what is coming to her. Acted methodically, Evans proves that he is not just a pretty face.

If there was any justice to the world, Johnson would have the mainstream pedigree Christopher Nolan boasts. Between Brick, Looper and Knives Out, Johnson is what Nolan would have been if he was subtler, more interested in character than plot and actually took risks.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 18,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1029]

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