A wealthy family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances, and a brilliant detective suspects foul play in Knives Out, Director Rian Johnson's terrific postmodern take on the classic whodunnit. Frankly, I can't tell you much without spoiling the fun—there are twists upon twists upon twists throughout—but the film should be on everybody's must-see list.
(We are very mindful of spoilers below, apart from brief descriptions of the premise and main characters, and well-known tropes of classic mystery novels.)
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 has brought that same sensibility—mixing dark subject matter with a lighter touch—to Knives Out. Think Clue meets Murder on the Orient Express—or any number of adaptations of novels by the grande dame of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie—both of which the director has cited as influences via a Twitter thread of movie posters that also includes Deathtrap, Evil Under the Sun, Gosford Park, and Murder by Death.
Knives Out features a premise entirely worthy of Christie. Various extended family members assemble at the family estate to celebrate their patriarch Harlan Thrombey's (Christopher Plummer) 85th birthday. Thrombey made his fortune by writing tons of best-selling mystery/thriller novels and dies unexpectedly later that night under mysterious circumstances. Could it be foul play? Det. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects it might be, 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.