Murder Mysteries share several common denominators, primarily a private investigator, a victim, a list of suspects, their possible motives, and ultimately the killer revealed. The key to a good detective story lies in the author’s mixture of these ingredients. A Whodunit’s greatness can be determined by its intricate plotting or by its memorable characters, notably the lead detective, from Hercule Poirot to Miss Marple. In rare instances, the elements blend with a humorous touch, often to the point of parody, as in Murder by Death or Clue.
Rian Johnson made his directorial film debut fourteen years ago with Brick, a neo-noir set in high school whose characters spoke in the parlance of a Dashiel Hammett yarn. Now, he comes out with his latest feature, Knives Out, an entertaining romp that has fun with its first rate cast of characters without ever tipping into full-on caricature. It’s Johnson’s love letter to the genre, but his decision to place it in a contemporary setting subverts the material and makes it refreshing in a sociopolitical context.