Amidst all the sequel and franchise fare 2019 has thrust at audiences, director and writer Rian Johnson has eloquently laid a meaty piece of genre fan for cinephiles to chew on: Knives Out. Starring one of the best ensembles that any film has boasted this year, joining the ranks of The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in that regard, Knives Out is fortunately far greater than the sum of its parts and flaws. Indeed, if it was not for Johnson’s expertly penned screenplay and magnificent performances all around, the middling second act could have tanked the momentum just a bit more, or worse, even compromise the entire experience, but it is to the audience’s pleasure that it doesn’t as the film quickly rebounds in a stellar final act that caps the mystery with one more motion of bravado. Johnson clearly relishes the “whodunit” genre Knives Out plays in, adding subtle quirks that may deceive even the most aware of audiences.
From Daniel Craig’s cartoonish southern accent to several breathless sequences throughout, every element of this modernized mystery lends to indulging its viewers in a world of deceit, prudery, hypocrisies, and yes, intrigue. If the mighty two hours this sprawling murder mystery had to be crammed into one sentence, it would go something along the lines of this. Knives Out crackles with a near maniacal energy in its whimsical nature, coated by a devilishly entertaining narrative, resulting in a cinematic experience that not only easily cracks the year’s charts as one of the best, but may come out as the very best.
Detailing the events one week after famed mystery author Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) death, the estate of Thrombey is in total disarray. The fierce competition over his remaining assets to the strange events of the party prior to Thrombey’s death all scratch at the surviving family’s minds, curling their emotions into stingy and greedy intentions. This all comes to a head when a private renowned detective, Benoit Blanc, played confidently by Daniel Craig, arrives at the estate, harshly interrogating each family member over what seems like a normal cause of death.
Knives Out, on paper at the very least, presents a premise that could be labelled as being somewhat unoriginal and notwithout cause. The overall plot should ring similar to anyone who has either read an Agatha Christie novel or seen one of their fateful adaptations, mechanizing clichés and tropes fans of Christie and the genre in general will no doubt be accustomed to. However, Johnson immediately swerves expectations in the heat of the first act in a move that nearly flips the entire film on its head. Unfortunately, the decision is almost entirely revoked in the final act as the script hastily ties the final knots as any other murder mystery story would, lessening the devastating initial shock. However, such compromises rarely tinker with the internal experience, much less the overall quality of the film, and that is largely thanks to the entertainment value that so delicately propels the plot forward even when it can’t stand on its own.
Knives Out grabs its audience from the very get-go, never letting up until the final credits begin to roll. It’s simply miraculous that a film is as entertaining and immersive as Knives Out is, so much so that its glaring faults begin to gray and mellow. The outset from the first act depicts a remotely enjoyable time, but Johnson smartly saves his best cards for last, neatly wrapping up every loose plot thread in an explosive third and final act. If it wasn’t for the harsh competition for the category, I would argue that Knives Out could join the heat of the original screenplay contender group for this year’s Writer’s Guild awards and even the Academy Awards, and no doubt would I argue that it’s incredibly deserving of such accolades. It is one of the best screenplays to be ushered to the big screen in a long time, blending satirical mystery, charm, and a fierce understanding of what fun at the cinema means.
But without the backing of the star-studded cast, Knives Out may have never even reached its first day of production. The fact that Rian Johnson and company were able to assemble such a group of performers speaks volumes for Johnson’s respect in the industry as much as the detractors of Johnson’s also “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” would like to deny. Chris Evans and Daniel Craig are the obvious standouts here, given the most amount of screen time, excluding breakout actress Ana de Armas. Christopher Plummer turns in a competent portrayal as the deceased Thrombey, enacting such a warm spirit that permeates throughout the entire film. With such a strong ensemble, it’s mildly disappointing that there are fewer sequences that use their combined talents than I would have anticipated. Restricted to essentially one key scene, Knives Out shines brightest when all of its cast members are working in tandem to realize Johnson’s award-worthy script, and it’s a darn shame that it doesn’t happen more.
Knives Out somehow exceeds the scope of its ambitious potential, intertwining titillating bits of mystery and intrigue and smart, socially relevant dialogue that is more entertaining that it has any right of being. Rian Johnson has undoubtedly crafted his final film to date, assembling a cast of performers whose best roles also come from Knives Out, most notably Chris Evans as Ransom. The almost insane, breakneck speed of it all lends for a dazzlingly enjoyable time at the multiplex should you be able to view it in its intended format. Knives Out is the perfect thanksgiving for all cinephiles; Johnson has dished up in both the writing and direction something that audiences will surely relish alongside their holiday turkey.
Acclaimed writer and director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) pays tribute to mystery mastermind Agatha Christie in KNIVES OUT, a fun, modern-day murder mystery where everyone is a suspect. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan's dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death. With an all-star ensemble cast including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell, KNIVES OUT is a witty and stylish whodunit guaranteed to keep audiences guessing until the very end.
KNIVES OUT Releases on November 27th, 2019.