Cinematic Releases: Knives Out (2019) - Reviewed

Rian Johnson is a filmmaker that likes to defy expectations.  He’s tackled high school delinquency, taken us time-travelling, and propelled us into intergalactic battle, but never quite in an entirely satisfying way for many filmgoers, basking in storytelling that keeps the viewer off-guard.  A somewhat divisive figure at this point, Johnson emerges from the ashes of his last polarizing feature to create the star-studded Knives Out, a whodunnit with just as many twists and turns as his previous works, but with misdirection that consistently feels fluid rather than forced, culminating into his most cohesive film yet.

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is a self-made millionaire who built his empire writing murder mystery novels.  When the author turns up with a slit throat in his extravagant mansion, everyone seems like a suspect in his self-absorbed family when it’s suggested as not a clear case of suicide, like it was initially assumed.  After being given a note and envelope full of cash by an unnamed source, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) comes to the estate to investigate the potential murder, and the family’s eccentricities further emerge when they are interrogated by him.  Meanwhile, Harlan’s sweet caregiver Marta (Ana de Armas) gets pulled into the fray of family drama, and she must fight tooth and nail to get out of the ruckus unscathed after fingers start pointing in her direction. 

As one might expect from a film with practically all well-known actors, the cast absolutely shines in Knives Out.  While there is a sense that some of them weren’t utilized to their full potential, everybody brings charisma to their roles and is a pleasure to watch.  We see actors like Toni Collette—not necessarily known for being funny—flex her comedic muscles, and there is something strangely satisfying about watching Chis Evans, who is synonymous with Captain America at this point, act like a total jerk.  Daniel Craig’s southern drawl takes a minute to soak in, but once it does, he ends up stealing the show with his hilarious line delivery and swagger.  While bigger names are top-billed, the lesser known Ana de Armas carries much of the film and is worthy to be standing among these heavy-hitters.  She has a sincerity and likability about her that make the audience immediately sympathetic for her when she ends up in the crossfire of the plot.

The film is further elevated by its exceptional prowess behind the scenes.  Rian Johnson’s direction and screenplay are his best yet, bringing cleverness and effortless wit to the narrative.  Steve Yedlin’s cinematography is appropriately moody and rich, with warm, saturated colors that are pleasing to the eye and set the proper atmosphere.  David Crank’s production design and David Schlesinger’s set decoration are a pleasure to behold--the Thrombey mansion is packed from top to bottom with brilliant, eye-catching references to the deceased author’s body of literary work, showing an attention to detail that is exceptional.  For reasons like this, the film knows how to say a great deal in saying very little, and no aspect of it feels heavy-handed or sloppy because of its consistent level of talent—both on screen and off.  

For anyone that has ever enjoyed an Agatha Christie novel or a good game of Clue, Knives Out is a must-watch.  There are many that will harshly criticize this film for the sheer fact that Rian Johnson’s name is attached, but don’t listen to these naysayers.  Funny, charming, and entertaining, the film will keep you engaged and guessing until the very final moments.  

--Andrea Riley