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Star-studded cast performs in a mystery story that captivates the view from the very start

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jamie Curtis (foreground) and a stellar cast performs in 'Knives Out,' released in area theaters on Nov. 27.

Nearly every seat in the theater was filled. It was too hot, too loud and the previews seemed to drag on forever.

It was 30 minutes after the scheduled show time when – mercifully – director Rian Johnson's "Knives Out" began. By that point I was uncomfortable, impatient and largely cynical about the state of modern cinema. The previews that preceded the film were a mishmash of big studio duds, annoying and shallow imitations of an art form that I felt convinced was in decline.

By the end of the 130-minute main feature, however, my cynicism was temporarily washed away by a stroke of narrative genius. "Knives Out" is proof that great storytellers still exist at the top of a business that acclaimed director Martin Scorsese recently characterized as more concerned with mass entertainment products than telling compelling stories.

Johnson – as the writer and director of this film – provided the antithesis to Scorsese's grim outlook.

"Knives Out" tells the story of the death of a rich family's patriarch. Famed author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) died of an apparent suicide and the police are ready to rule it as such, but sleuth detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) isn't ready to rule out foul play – and he has his eye on everyone in Thrombey's dysfunctional family.

"Knives Out" is entertaining by virtue of its narrative, but that narrative could not be properly conveyed without its elite cast. Blanc, family nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) and entitled grandson Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) are the primary characters. The rest of the Thrombey-Drysdale clan is played by top-shelf actors, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford and Don Johnson.

This isn't just some high-budget movie that insists it's good just because it has good actors. Each cast member plays their role with the abilities one would expect, but the depth and nuance of the story allows them to shine even brighter.

The brightest star among the group is de Armas, who emerges as a sympathetic protagonist from the get-go. Her character's moral compass guides the film through all the backstabbing (literal and figurative), bickering and politically charged moments. This is in many ways a political movie and the conversations among family members about political topics are as realistic as any portrayed in film or television recently.

Politics is an important part of the story, but it doesn't carry it. What does is Blanc's endless pursuit of the truth with all the flair of a southern gentlemen, Cabrera's role in the family and in the mystery of Thrombey's death, and a series of twists in the final half-hour that keep one's eyes glued to the screen.

Mysteries can be boring, confusing and rife with cliché. "Knives Out" is none of those things and that's why it works. It is a quality story told by terrific, well-known actors with an ending that is near-impossible to predict – even for passionate fans of the genre.

By the time the credits roll, you'll be wondering why you didn't see everything coming, but happy that you were there for the journey to the truth. And you may even find yourself articulating your thoughts in Blanc's signature southern drawl.


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