Knives Out and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Rian Johnson
I gotta tell you, I was in LOVE with this movie from the very first trailer! Seeing great actors like Michale Shannon, Toni Collette, and Daniel Craig, on screen with Captain America in a movie from the Last Jedi guy, AND it’s a juicy as heck murder mystery? What more could one person ask for!? Even with the best of trailers however, there’s always a possibility that what we saw was a cleaned up version of the best bits while the finished product is a compromised and messy waste of time; the Suicide Squad approach if you will. Can Rian Johnson prove once again how great of a filmmaker he is despite how… “controversial” his last film was, or is this just more fuel to the fire for the more obnoxious anti-fans of The Last Jedi? Let’s find out!!
The morning after the eighty-fifth birthday of famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), he is found dead by his nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana De Anmas) with this throat slashed open by a knife, and because of his massive wealth and greedy family members it only makes sense to investigate things a bit further despite it looking like a suicide. Not only that, famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) with his rich southern accent was brought in to investigate by a mysterious correspondent who sent him no identifying information but a wad of cash to find out if there was foul play or not. His entire family was in attendance the night before and most of them stayed the night in the giant and ridiculously furnished mansion complete with a giant display of knives that looks like a rejected Game of Thrones prop, so there was plenty of opportunity for someone to get the drop on him and possibly make it look like a suicide. The suspects include his children Linda and Walt (Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon), his children in-law Richard and Joni (Don Johnson and Toni Collette), and his grandchildren Hugh, Meg, and Jacob (Chirs Evans, Katherine Langford, and Jaeden Martell); all of whom are bizarre in their own way, but hardly seem to be the types to kill unless VERY highly motivated. The key here is not finding the right method or the most capable suspect, but who had the most REASON to kill, and chance are it has to do with money as Harlan seems to have upset quite a few people at the party last night, though everyone is staying rather tight lipped about it. Can Detective Blanc find the truth among all the lies, misdirection, and self-serving half-truths? Which member of this eclectic family has the most to gain now that Harlan is gone, and who has the most to hide? Is the big twist at the end that Detective Blanc was ACTUALLY Joe Bang in disguise this entire time!?
We may want to keep an eye on this Rian Johnson fellow because despite so many people being ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that he ruined Star Wars, he turns out to be a really good director! This movie is such a good time with a solid mystery and quite a lot more to say about class and privilege than the trailers would lead you to believe! In fact, it’s worth pointing out that the trailers which basically made this look like Clue crossed with Murder on the Orient Express are a little bit off because Daniel Craig is not really the main character and the movie takes a twist rather early on that makes it clear we’re making a much different movie. Still an excellent movie though, and one that I have no problem recommending even with that early twist took me by surprise and recontextualized the entire premise we were sold on. Maybe not knowing exactly how a movie will be structured and work out is a GOOD thing every once in a while! WHAT A TWIST!!
Rian Johnson has assembled an amazing cast for this movie along with an intriguing and fun mystery for them to work through. Everyone here is putting on amazing and over the top performances that really nails the almost spoof like nature of this story. It calls less to mind the low brow reference spoofs of later Zucker Brothers films or the oeuvre of Freidberg and Seltzer as it does the more layered and thoughtful takes we often see from Edgar Wright. It feels exaggerated to be sure, but they pull back just enough so that no one comes off as unreal which grounds the narrative and makes the eccentricities that much funnier. Daniel Craig’s southern accent (he REALLY seems to like doing that), Chris Evans as the pompous do nothing grandson, even Toni Collette as the flighty daughter in law who’s lost all sense of consequence and responsibility due to their fabulous wealth (just to name a few), they still feel like real people which allows them to be serious when they need to be and uproariously funny when not. Once it becomes clear what this movie is really about, the family can be quite frightening in just how desperate, conniving (or should I say co-KNIFE-ing!?), and two-faced they can be when their position is challenged and the lifestyle of which they’ve become accustomed to is changed. These are people who may have had their struggles but have had a layer of security and comfort that few could ever experience, and this murder mystery brings out the worst in them which only twists the thread of tension even tighter as the movie goes along.
All of that is great and is enough to make this a good movie, but what really knocks it out of the park is the direction by Johnson who does a great job of making the cinematography, edits, and general set design part of the narrative itself. In Gene Siskel’s review of Beavis and Butt-head do America (I’m going somewhere with this), he makes a note that there’s a scene where the director is trying to help to the main characters understand what happened in the narrative with the way that shots are structured, and Rian Johnson does something similar here with just how many clues, red herrings, and slight changes to things we’ve already seen before that are meant to keep the audience engaged in solving the mystery for themselves as much as seeing it unfold naturally. It’s like a game within the movie where Johnson wants you to examine and prod each scene which is rather fitting because the mystery itself is about a man who lived his life coming up with ingenious mysteries and then filling his home and his life with them. Jamie Lee Curtis at one point wonders if this is all just a game that his father has been pulling and at some points you start to believe that there’s a twist to his part in this story that will reveal itself right at the end. Whether it does or not I won’t spoil here, but Johnson’s sensibilities and directing chops do a great job of balancing the humanity of its characters and the gravity of the crime with the silliness of their lives and the world their father has built for them. The way the climax comes to an end as well as the final shot of this movie perfectly illustrate the game that this family and the audience itself have been a part of as well as just how much fun Ryan Johnson had putting us all through it.
If I have to dig for a flaw here, it’s the misdirection early on in the movie which, if you really WERE expecting something else, can feel a bit deflating. I won’t spoil anything, but it feels like we get a BIG revelation way too early into the movie and so we spend maybe ten to twenty minutes watching everyone else try to catch up to it which is not what I was expecting as I thought we would be learning each revelation at the same time Daniel Craig is who is driving the narrative for that initial part of the movie. However, once we get to a particular scene with an utter bombshell of a NEW revelation, it becomes clear what this movie is going for and it’s a great ride all the way through. It’s like someone going “wait for it” over and over again, and you start to get frustrated about it as it becomes annoying, but then the payoff is worth it. And it’s not even like those ten to twenty minutes are bad as there are some tense moments, clever ideas, and solid humor within them, but I just felt a bit lost and not sure where we were going until our destination became abundantly clear. As far as flaws, it’s really not a bad one to have as some people will certainly enjoy the misdirection and uncertainty, and there really isn’t anything else wrong with it. MAYBE some of the family members feel a bit underutilized? Eh… even that’s stretching a bit as everyone has at least one great moment to shine. It’s a puzzle box of a film, and everything just fits together so perfectly that you can’t help but admire it even if there are a few pieces here and there that I would have preferred had a tiny bit more prominence.
Despite a few minor quibbles here and there mostly due to the way the film was marketed, I’d be hard pressed to find any genuine reason to dislike this movie unless murder mysteries are just not your thing. This is a fantastic entry in the genre that understands the tropes and makes something fun and engaging with them; much like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, though I ended up enjoying this SO much more than that. Definitely see this movie in theaters while you can and with a bunch of people who will laugh, gasp, and cheer at just the right points as Rian Johnson takes you all on a magnificent ride! Seriously, the only GOOD thing about him not directing The Rise of Skywalker is the fact that we got this amazing movie instead. GUESS I’LL JUST HAVE TO SETTLE FOR HIS UPCOMING TRILOGY INSTEAD!!