Knives Out (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 130 Minutes
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collete, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans
What ever happened to modern murder mysteries in film? If you don’t count Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express and Netflix’s ironically titled Murder Mystery, there hasn’t been a truly inspired Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery in the public eye since perhaps the 2000s decade, if not likely due to the change in the film landscape following a stronger interest in franchise films. Well, after the success of his imprint on the Star Wars universe with The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson has seemingly came in to give audiences the inspired Muder Mystery film we’ve been wanting for ages. Being a project he wanted to develop since finishing on Looper, this film along with its huge All Star cast seem to be pulling the punches to make a rare film we don’t see much anymore with huge amounts of wit, charm and solid suspense, which is what the team here pull off with flying colours!
Knives Out follows a detective case that has been called in after wealthy crime novelist, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has been seemingly killed following his 85th birthday with his family. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), has been brought to the house to investigate where he begins to interview the family's many relatives and in-laws who have been at the house on the night of Thrombey’s death, along with his caretaker and closest friend, Marta (Ana de Armas) who might know more regarding his death than she might be letting on. Who was the killer? Who has ulterior motives behind the scenes, and what ever happened to Thrombey in the first place?
Right from the film’s start, Knives Out isn’t subtle whatsoever when it tries to clearly pay both huge homage and also heavily satirize everything we know about the Muder Mystery. Right down to Harlan Thrombey literally being a writer for Crime Novels much like Agatha Cristie, along with much of the family on the film having some charactatures of classic Murder Mystery characters and antagonists, the film clearly has a lot of knowledge regarding its intitial inspirations but also thankfully doesn’t shy away from wanting to tell it’s audience what’s new to be inconvered. One of the ways the film is able to go about this is just through how amazing well written the characters all are. Rian Johnson’s screenplay here is air-tight and impressively so given how much of an ensemble there is here, and time is given fairly early on into the story regarding who these people are and none of these people are not similar to the traditional American family. These are upper-class, aristocratic, and somewhat snobbish people who has been seeping off of their father’s fortune for years, and having these characters don’t seem immediately suspicious from the outset given their upbringing and attitude helps to give the film some greater suspense. The great cast also helps to display just how surprisingly funny of a film Knives Out can be too! A lot of natural humour is greatly interjected thanks to the chemistry and great dynamic the cast has and as the plot revelations start to come in quick and sharp, it’s easy to have the film throw in some uproarious comedy that comes from the utter irony of some situations, making this film that’s more beneficial to see in a cinema with an audience more than anything else. The film is also structured superbly, thanks to Bob Ducsay’s impressive editing and how he and Johnson’s script are able to bounce to different flashbacks, periods and present day events that keep the film feeling very alive and kinetic. It is debatable if the film perhaps opens a bit too quickly since it throws its audience into the mystery practically 5 minutes in meaning it can take about 10 minutes to adjust to the rapid fire dialogue and kinetic structure, but once you settle in, it’s a true ride!
But as for it’s main characters, the two major standouts in Knives Out come from Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas as Blanc and Marta respectively. Craig tries something completely different to his usual roles, adopting a Southern American Accent, and though his character may initially seem somewhat one-dimensional given his role as the detective, what makes him interesting is how he never knows for the vast majority of the 130 minute runtime who his caller was who paid him a huge sum to take on this case. This adds more to the story than meets the eye, which is able to give his character that unique edge to keep in interesting whilst not just feeling like a device to advance the plot. But REAL praise should come to Anna de Armas who gives the best performance of her career here, displaying some phenomenal emotion that feels crucial to making the tragedies of her role work as well as they do. Her character has a massive role to play being easily the most close person to Thrombey when he was alive, and without going into spoilers, the many twists that are sprinkled involving her give the film’s mystery a tighter feel, making the film surprisingly challenging at points without the film ever feeling convoluted. It simply keeps you guessing. If there is something to nitpick about, it’s that though Johnson does do an amazing job at giving each of these family members a vital role to play, some other casts members, particularly Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell, don’t have much of a role to serve only really having a scene or two to truly define them outside of their nepotism and basic caricatures. It’s not a massive problem given how massive the cast is and how difficult it would be to perfect, but it does show how a few minor areas to get some fine tuning.
As for everything else, the Production Design deserves some brilliant praise. Most of the film is set in Thrombey’s house and the sets are impressively built, using a wide array of colours and aristocratic imagery to sell how this was once the place owned by an incredibly rich man. It also helps the cinematography provided by Steve Yedlin since it helps keep all of the scenes feeling slightly claustrophobic. No one really gets the opportunity to hide here, so it helps out from both a creative and technical level as far as the filmmaking displayed goes. The music score by Nathan Johnson also works very well, and though none of the tracks are especially memorable, in the moment for the scenes and especially for the suspense, the rising tension of his musical tones in his music keep the film feeling very intense, particularly near the end.
Knives Out is a delightfully tense Murder Mystery which takes many elements from the genre itself that made it so popular, but also isn’t afraid to try some new things out by subverting some expectations to keep its audience guessing. Rian Johnson’s screenplay keeps the structure and dialogue impeccable from start to finish and though it could have been a bit tighter in spots to make sure all of the family serve a vital purpose, it doesn’t stop this from being a truly rollicking fun time at the cinema. It deserves to be seen with the audience to go along with its Thriller elements and sprinkles of comedy, and it only proves how Johnson is a force not to be reckoned with.
And people say he ruined Star Wars!
FINAL RATING: 9/10 (EXCELLENT)
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas’ Performances
Kinetic Pace and Editing
A Challenging Mystery Aspect
Gorgeous Production Design
Some Cast Members are Underused