We talk a lot of poverty these days.

Rian Johnson first made waves with his clever high school noir Brick (which if you haven’t seen, do). He expanded his reach with Looper and then made the second best Star Wars film, The Last Jedi (I was about say don’t @me, but really do @me – I welcome it).  Now he has given us a who done it in a big old manor house filled with a massive and star-studded cast that would make Agatha Christie blush. 

Knives Out  is a delightfully twisty film. Johnson has constructed a classic detective story, layered it with ample comedy and then used it to frame a big, socially relevant tale that speaks to our current reality in ways that this sort of entertainment rarely does.

The film opens at the mansion of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a very wealthy, very famous mystery novelist. Following his birthday party, Thrombey died of an apparent suicide having slashed his own throat.  The large extended family has been called together by the famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc has been hired anonymously and hopes to learn why.

The cast includes Chris Evans, Jaimie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Frank Oz,  and Jaeden Martell as various relatives. LaKeith Stanfield plays the homicide detective that is constantly dubious of Blanc’s investigation.

The family is mostly a bunch of leeches who have lived off Thrombey’s fortune and we learn that on the night of his death he was in the process of cutting them all off in one way or another.  

The center of the tale is Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Thrombey’s nurse. As well as being his nurse, Marta was Thrombey’s confidant and only real friend.  She lives with her mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.  Marta’s poverty and social situation stands in stark contrast to the Thrombey family. She is hardworking and smart, yet lives on the knife edge of poverty while the family is made up of lazy, dull, useless people who never have to worry about how they will eat or where they will live.

Hidden within the humor and the detective story is an acidic, sharp satire about income inequality, the myth of the meritocracy, and the plight of immigrants in today’s America. Knives Out has a screwed on smile and a glad hand, but behind its eyes there is a rage just waiting to be released.  This movie wants to play nice to get your attention, but it’s very angry all the time.  It is an earned anger and one that speaks to the country we live in right now.

The cast is marvelous. Armas centers and anchors the story with her subtle performance. Plummer adds gravitas. Craig is about as far from James Bond here as it is possible to be, and he carries it off beautifully. Curtis is always a joy onscreen and this role is no exception. Michael Shannon continues on his way to becoming his generation’s best character actor.

The script is well plotted, and beautifully paced. Johnson understands this material in ways that few filmmakers do.  He clearly loves Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock.

Knives out is an outstanding film.