‘Knives Out’ reviews: Critics react to Rian Johnson’s ‘marvelous,’ ‘lip-smacking,’ ‘well-oiled’ all-star mystery

Knives Out” opened on November 27, just in time for families to get their own knives out (literally and figuratively) over Thanksgiving. The Agatha Christie-style mystery about the murder of a novelist (Christopher Plummer) and his family of suspects is from writer-director Rian Johnson, whose past credits range from “Looper” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to “Brick” and “Breaking Bad.” So what do critics think of this whodunnit?

As of this writing the film has a MetaCritic score of 83 based on 43 reviews counted thus far: 40 positive and 3 somewhat mixed, but none outright negative. That strong consensus is confirmed by its Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 96% based on 203 reviews counted, only 9 of which are classified as negative. The RT critics’ consensus summarizes the reviews by saying that the film “sharpens old murder-mystery tropes with a keenly assembled suspense outing that makes brilliant use of writer-director Rian Johnson’s stellar ensemble.”

RT only judges reviews as pass or fail, so its high score indicates that the vast majority of the critics admire the film to at least some degree. MC scores reviews on a sliding scale from 0-100, so the high number there indicates that quite a few of those critics are passionately enthusiastic about it. In fact, five of those MC reviews are rated a perfect 100.

The film is being described as “marvelous,” with “lip-smacking character work from a crackerjack cast” that includes Daniel Craig as a Southern private eye, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford and Ana de Armas as some of the suspects. Johnson’s screenplay is the “star” with its “well-oiled plot mechanics.” It’s “funny, surprising and intriguing,” though some question whether the film rises to the Hitchcockian heights its reaching for, and if its political themes “ring hollow.”

Will you be seeing this film with whatever family members you haven’t cleverly murdered by the end of Thanksgiving weekend? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans in our forums.

Stephanie Zacharek (Time): “Writer-director Rian Johnson’s marvelous ensemble murder mystery — and comedy — ‘Knives Out’ is based on one of the most timeworn conceits in the whodunit playbook … But Johnson has taken the essential formula and made it his own. The picture is a delight, but even if it offers some nostalgic pleasures, it’s also attuned to all the worries and, worse, the thoughtlessness that characterize the modern world.”

David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter): “That setup creates the opportunity for some lip-smacking character work from a crackerjack cast … Johnson’s screenplay in many ways is the star here, with its well-oiled plot mechanics and guileful twists and turns, constantly pulling the rug out from under the audience as much as the characters.”

Tasha Robinson (The Verge): “It lacks Hitchcockian tension or Christie-level dignity, but it’s funny, surprising, and intriguing in the way it flips the usual murder-mystery script … Craig emerges as the ensemble’s MVP, largely because his drawling amusement at the way the story unfolds gives the audience such a clear model for their own reaction.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times): “Things get complicated, though they never deepen, which seems by design. ‘Knives Out’ is essentially an energetic, showy take on a dusty Agatha Christie-style murder mystery … Johnson’s own sleight of hand is estimable, even if his effort to add politics into the crowded mix rings hollow.”

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