Knives Out Review
Quite simply, 'Knives Out' is one of the best movies of the year.
Release Date: November 27, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG-13
A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.
Director: Rian Johnson
Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
Producers: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig (Benoit Blanc), Chris Evans (Ransom Drysdale), Ana de Armas (Marta Cabrera), Jamie Lee Curtis (Linda Drysdale), Michael Shannon (Walt Thrombey), Don Johnson (Richard Drysdale), Toni Collette (Joni Thrombey), LaKeith Stanfield (Lieutenant Elliott), Christopher Plummer (Harlan Thrombey), Katherine Langford (Meg Thrombey), Jaeden Martell (Jacob Thrombey), Riki Lindhome (Donna Thrombey),
Editor: Bob Ducsay
Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin
Production Designer: David Crank
Casting Director: Mary Vernieu
Music Score: Nathan Johnson
Coming off Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson has decided to get back to the filmmaking that earned him the job in the first place. At his best, Johnson takes genres and flips them on their head through strong character work, sharp writing, and a propulsive plot. Knives Out is the culmination of his work thus far – a star-studded affair that evokes Agatha Christie but immediately lets it be known audiences are in for something more.
At its core, Knives Out is a murder mystery centered on the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer from All the Money in the World). After a family gathering with Thrombey’s many children, Thrombey has been found dead in his study, an apparent victim of murder. Like in the vein of Clue, everyone is a suspect in Knives Out, from Thrombey’s children and their spouses (played by the likes of Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis, The Shape of Water’s Michael Shannon, Django Unchained’s Don Johnson, and Hereditary’s Toni Collette) to his extended family.
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig from Skyfall and Spectre) has undertaken the case of Thrombey’s death and has reason to suspect almost everyone. He’s part Hercule Poirot and part Columbo, reimagined as a Southern Gentlemen and whose suspicions, while occasionally astute, are not always the cleverest. Nevertheless, Blanc’s character is not the focus of the film as much as Poirot would be in a Christie novel. Because there is always more than meets the eye in a whodunit, and for Knives Out, that couldn’t be truer.
It’s not worth discussing the story much further because that’s the key to any good mystery film. All that is important to say is that Johnson is not trying to simply ape the style of Christie and her ilk, but rather pay homage with a modern take that subverts as much as it emulates. The film will consistently have audiences guessing, but they can’t possibly imagine why at the outset. Go in as fresh as possible if you want a genuine surprise.
Across the board, the cast in Knives Out is stellar. Everyone gets just enough screen time to make their presence known, and each gets the opportunity to chew the scenery when appropriate. There’s not a weak link in the bunch, but be mindful that the film is an ensemble piece. It’s best to go in for the cast as a whole not one particular performer.
Equally as important to the film as the acting, the writing in Knives Out is exceptional. Johnson has always had a knack for sharp dialogue and witty in-jokes, and he is firing on all cylinders here. The humor is never overbearing, and it doesn’t undermine the fact this is a murder mystery. Rather, it establishes upfront that Knives Out is unconventional, and it makes even the mundane act of interrogations engaging.
Because mystery genre entries are so rare, Knives Out could have gotten away with just being a good one of those and called it a day. But instead, Rian Johnson takes a cast fit for an Agatha Christie-style whodunit, intermingles his sense of humor and fast-paced writing, and then flips everything upside down before things even really begin. Knives Out is a crowd pleaser from top to bottom, and is easily one of the year’s best movies.
Knives Out is a clever whodunit, which is as much a credit to the writing as it is anything else. Putting together a story that gives them just enough information to keep them guessing is difficult, but Johnson makes it look effortless. He does all that on one level, but underneath, he adds even more to what’s going on. Nothing is simple in the film, even if it might appear that way. At times, audiences may think they have it all figured out and they don’t even realize that is the film’s intent. It is less about tricking and more about entertaining on the way to a destination.
Johnson also finds clever ways to comment on today’s political situation and class distinction throughout the film, but he does so in very subtle ways. Knives Out never feels heavy-handed in its subtext, but it’s there for those who care to pay attention. It’s just another way that the film can entertain, even if it does just fine on the surface.