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.