Knives Out is a new whodunnit murder mystery written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and stars Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, a private investigator of great renown who arrives as the Thrombey residence with Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) after the legendary book author and patriarch of the family, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), is found dead in his study, believed to have committed suicide on the night of his 85th birthday. But something doesn’t seem right about Harlan’s death, and as such, Blanc is soon convicted by the testimony of Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), as well as the discussions in questionings of more immediate family members, to tug on the end of a very long string that he expects, and hopes, will somehow arrive at the truth behind what really happened that night. With the family fortune on the line, and plenty of possible motive for most (if not all) of Harlan’s family to want him out of the picture, the investigator begins to suspect foul play in the case of Harlan’s death, and as Blanc attempts to untangle this dark, twisted web of family troubles and secrets kept, each new revelation brings him closer to the truth lying at the center of it all. As the family gathers to mourn their passed patriarch and prepare for the reading of his will, time is running out with a quickening pace, and the only way the death of Harlan Thrombey will be solved is by a relentless pursuit on the part of Blanc for that ever-so-elusive truth, no matter what kind of danger or newfound roadblocks pop up in his path. Yet the closer he gets to the truth, the farther away it seems to be for him, slipping out from just under his fingers whenever he’s nearly there, and the hands of the truth snatcher may be even closer than anyone suspects. This film also stars Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, and Marlene Forte.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a long time. Love or hate The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson is someone I consider to be one of our great elevators in cinema, meaning that he can take just about any concept, whether it be time travel or a Star Wars story or a murder mystery, and elevate it to a level that few other writers or directors can simply by putting his own spin on whatever it is he wants to do. His films are very clearly his films, regardless of what studio he’s working under, something that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s major studio systems that don’t start with A and end with 24 or start with Ne and end with on. It’s a hard line to walk, but it’s one that Johnson walks with the best of them, and I really admire how he walks it (and, as an aside, I’m really glad he’s getting into making his own original films again after angry fanboys on the internet haven’t left him the hell alone about Last Jedi). His originality seeps through every frame and word spoken in one of his films, and Knives Out is no exception to that rule, either, as Johnson’s script and direction are very much trademarked by his singular vision. And, to make matters a whole lot better, this might just be his most entertaining, fun, tense, and enjoyable to watch film yet.
Knives Out is an absolute blast of a film, a hell of an old school whodunnit with such modern, youthful energy, you could swear Johnson’s been pumping things this good out since he set foot in Hollywood (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had!). It would be hard enough to list the things not to like about this movie since there’s essentially nothing that doesn’t seem to have to do with the film having come out only two years after Last Jedi, and the absurdly quick turnaround that requires, but it might be even harder to list the things I loved about this movie due to the sheer volume of that sort of list. Each and every thing in this movie is working on just about each and every maximum level it can, and while I certainly won’t spoil anything here, the mystery untangles in such a way that the film is able to constantly surprise and intrigue you enough that eventually, you give up trying to solve it and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Okay, I’m kidding, you never try to stop solving it; that’s part of the fun of great murder mysteries, and somehow, Johnson is able to communicate that by forcing the story to the most interesting place it can go at the most interesting time it can go there.
The film’s strongest boast is in Rian Johnson’s brilliant script, which features some of the best dialogue you’ll hear in a movie all year spoken by the best people equipped to speak it in one of the best casts of the year. You never get tired of hanging out with any of them when they’re on screen and while, yes, some have more screen-time than others due to the nature of how the story is meant to play out, there’s never a moment where the audience feels as if any given character wasn’t given their dues; it never once crossed my mind as I watched the film that a character hadn’t been around in a while or that any development among the Thrombey family, the police, the nurse or her family, had been in any way skirted over or sacrificed for the sake of moving things along, and that’s the power of a great script – even when thing aren’t “moving,” the characters’ relationships to one another are, and with a script like this, there’s never a dull moment. Any number of these characters are just sitting in rooms talking to each other at any given time, and never once did I think the film needed to get back to the action, because that was the action. Even apart from the central mystery, too, the film is far funnier than even its trailers ever attempted to show it could be, and that ability to throw in such great comedic effect with something as tense and absorbing as this story is just another one of the trademarks that Johnson seems to carry around with him wherever he goes and whatever he works on.
And, to add to the fun of it all even further, Johnson has assembled a murderer’s row (pun intended) of great talent to help tell the story he’s attempting to show off. Each and every performance in the film is great – Toni Collette clearly enjoys this role, Michael Shannon is Michael Shannon (always a good thing), Jaime Lee and Katherine Langford are clearly just happy to be there working with Johnson and company – but the two crown jewels of this cast are Chris Evans and Ana De Armas, the earlier of which gets to flex his acting muscles a little more by playing pretty much the polar opposite of his endearing Captain America persona. He’s clearly having a ton of fun getting to play this character, and that fun is an infectious thing with this movie; it blasts right through the screen and straight into your veins, pumping you up to see more and go deeper just as the film invites you to do just that. It’s Ana De Armas, though, who walks away with the crown and gold after all is said and done; I remember thinking as I watched Blade Runner 2049 two years ago that she was going to be a big deal in a very short time, and lo and behold, here she is practically carrying this movie on her back with easily the most complex and memorable role in the film as its lead character (yes, you read that right). Despite what the marketing may have told you, Daniel Craig’s Blanc, fun though he is to observe and follow, is not actually the main character at the center of the story – Marta is, and Ana De Armas makes the absolute most of any time she has on screen with a performance that, if Lionsgate plays their cards right with this, could land her an acting nomination, albeit likely in supporting due to the ensemble nature of the film. That would go nicely with the Original Screenplay nomination this movie better be getting come January.
There’s not too much else I can say without diving into spoiler territory (which I so badly want to do – and might, if people would be interested in reading it), but suffice it to say, you can add one more film to the list of them in 2019 that I absolutely, positively loved. Knives Out is such a blast to watch, the characters are such a blast to follow, the performances are such a blast to witness (especially that of Ana De Armas), the story is such a blast to enjoy, the script is brilliant, the direction is singular and confident, and with all said and done, Rian Johnson has created one hell of a movie that’s sure to go down as one of the most entertaining and just plain awesome films of the entire year. The murder mystery, the whodunnit, is reborn once more. Go out and see it the second you get the chance.
I’m giving “Knives Out” a 9.8/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.