About 15 minutes into Rian Johnson's Knives Out, I knew I'd have to see it again.
The Thrombeys — the wealthy and, of course, extremely dysfunctional family at the center of the movie — have gathered in their "ancestral home" for an investigation into the death of their patriarch, Harlan (Christopher Plummer).
Each is interviewed in turn, and each is revealed to be more hilariously terrible than the last, with dialogue efficiently establishing precisely what kind of asshole each one is: the heiress who insists that she "built [her] business from the ground up," the do-nothing who proudly notes that she "read a tweet about an article in The New Yorker," the haughty bigot who earnestly quotes the "immigrants" line from Hamilton.
Knives Out is a classic whodunit, and doesn't mind who knows it.
It's clear right away that we're in the hands of a writer-director who knows exactly who these people are, and what world they inhabit, and what story he wants to tell within it.
From there, it's off to the races. Johnson keeps the pacing brisk, with jokes and twists coming in fast and heavy — and then, just when you think you've got a handle on the situation, he'll throw a curveball to through you pleasantly off-balance again.
Knives Out is a classic whodunit, and doesn't mind who knows it; a character observes at one point that the victim "practically lived in a Clue board." But its finesse, style, and very modern concerns keep it feeling perfectly fresh, while its attention to detail invites rewatching and rethinking.
The cast is an embarrassment of riches; there are so many juicy parts here, torn into with such gusto, that it's hard to pick a favorite. There's Toni Collette channeling Valley-girl Goop energy; and Chris Evans doing a total 180 from his sweetheart Captain America persona; and Daniel Craig with a honeyed drawl and an amused smirk.
Attention must also be paid to some of the subtler performances in the cast, including Ana de Armas' as Harlan's down-to-earth nurse, and Plummer's as a man whose family feared him better than they knew him.
Knives Out's most obvious pleasures are on the surface, from the razor-sharp jokes to the genuinely surprising twists. (To say much more would be to give away its secrets, which are many and delicious.) It's not a film that demands rabbit-hole analysis or strains to deliver a pat message.
But it does breathe the same air we do. Its characters read the same headlines we do, re-litigate the same political disagreements, watch the same films, peruse the same publications. Dig a little deeper, and you may discover there's more to it than meets the eye. Maybe even enough to merit a second look.