Written and Directed by Rian Johnson | 139 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | On Netflix from December 23
A version of this review was first on FITI in September from the Toronto International Film Festival.
One of 2019’s unalloyed treasures, Knives Out brought ensemble mysteries in an Agatha Christie vein very much back into the mainstream with a charming and not-so-subtle class-aware subtext. No shade on Kenneth Branagh’s efforts to do the same with the Christie material, but Johnson hit it out of the park with the relevance of his original idea. Amazingly he’s done it again the second time, with a bigger, somewhat trashier, a lot more pop-culture conscious, but just as sharp and engaging murder mystery.
With room for a passel of unexpected cameos — including one that I think confirms Blanc’s sexuality — the film’s corkscrew plot, which both unwinds and rewinds as we go along, is a wonder of cinematic construction just like the first.
This time southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, having all the fun in the world) joins a group of hyper-wealthy folks who call themselves “The Disruptors” — including a terrific Kate Hudson, Jessica Henwick, Kathryn Hahn, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr, and Dave Bautista (providing a Spectre reunion) — at a palatial island locale. The Disruptors all found their fortunes through the grace of an Elon Musk-esque billionaire (Edward Norton), and all have reason to want him dead. Naturally, the island is his and they’re his guests for a murder mystery weekend.
This suggests a Last of Shiela inspiration, the Stephen Sondheim-scripted James Coburn millionaire-is-murdered mystery from 1973 — and Sondheim cameos here, as does Angela Lansbury, both sadly having since passed.
The pleasure of this project is, and it’s very much like the last time, the cleverer-than-thou construction around this group of venomous, craven, and very human characters all advocating for themselves, and how the film doubles back on what we thought we knew to reveal more information, eventually confirming who is actually pulling the strings. That web of deception is as dense as before, but the laughs might be even louder this time, offsetting any lack of novelty for having watched the previous mystery.
Aside from a few flashbacks, the action is restricted to said Greek island the likes of which only James Bond has seen before — and I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson is nodding to some of those Craig-era Bonds in this film. He’s certainly having some fun with a direct costume reference to PT Anderson’s Magnolia and a few other Easter eggs if you’d care to look for them.
Though the film will be arriving on Netflix in December — and it will be a holiday favourite, count on it — see it on the big screen with a crowd this week if you can manage it. It’s a huge amount of fun.