Knives Out (2019)
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas
Synopsis: A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material)
Runtime: 2 hr 10 min
Release Date: November 27, 2019
"I suspect...foul play," mutters detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who's mysteriously summoned to investigate the likewise mysterious death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who was found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party with his family at his mansion. When Blanc discovers that each of Thrombey's family members had feuds with Thrombey, however, he realizes his work is cut out for him, as everyone is a suspect.
Mystery and the unknown is one of the greatest assets a film can have. It forces the audience into this unique space where they are powerless to obtain information until the filmmaker gives it to them, resulting in feelings of intrigue, unrest, and finally shock. The best of these mysteries provide twists and turns along the way, forcing viewers to question and second-guess every character decision, while constantly being misdirected through the screenplay and direction until the opportune moment.
This is what writer/director Rian Johnson accomplishes in Knives Out. The film starts out with a simple premise, then gradually expands and winds into (what is aptly described by detective Blanc) a twisted web, resulting in a highly engaging, smart mystery comedy that is further propelled by a dynamic, A-list cast that has remarkable chemistry--so much so in fact that if one didn't know the actors' last names, you would firmly believe they're an actual family, as they bicker and jaw at one another over who (if anyone) is guilty of Thrombey's demise. One of the best elements of the film, despite its grave subject matter of a murder, is that it's also a comedy, with many well crafted laughs built in to lighten the mood and give even more flare to an already irresistibly gripping story.
The film also heavily benefits from rich characterization in the screenplay, which is used to give each of the family members screen time to explain their backstory, revealing possible motivations for them to murder Thrombey (thus making everyone a suspect) while also serving to give each of them more dimension. It’s something that few movies do really well, and something that goes a long way to make this murder mystery throughly intriguing and entertaining.
Beneath this story is also some relevant subtext of our obsession with wealth, prestige, and the pursuit of an easy life. While they certainly desire to find the person(s) responsible for his death, this family doesn't mourn the loss of Thrombey--instead they're selfish, greedy, self-guided individuals entirely focused on the inheritance and how much they'll each receive. It calls out these harmful ideals and instead celebrates those who work hard and serve others rather than themselves, and it's rewarding and refreshing to see, especially in a larger budget, wide release film.
The production design deserves credit here as well, for Johnson has created a beautiful, intricate mansion setting that's perfect for the unraveling of events that lead to the truth behind Thrombey's murder. We also get strong cinematography, filled with rich warm interior colors and some long shots that help to immerse viewers even more into the story.
Knives Out is a smart, funny, constant mind twisting mystery that binds viewers into a web of ever-shifting perspectives, refusing to relent until the very end. And while it undeniably displays some moments worth questioning, it never jumps off the rail of believability, and ultimately makes for absorbing material. The film also heavily benefits from its strong characterization, terrific cast and their strong chemistry and performances, as well as strong production design and cinematography. There's something to be said for a fun outing at the movies, and Johnson truly delivers something supremely fun here--something that'll certainly entertain but still have you thinking as the credits roll, whether it's about the plot itself or the film's commentary on the dangers of self-reliance on inheritance-based wealth and the celebration of the underprivileged. Bottom line: if you're looking for an unpredictable, thoughtful murder mystery, look no further than Knives Out.
Written by Anthony Watkins, December 19, 2019