Knives Out (2019)

“It’s a weird case from the start. A case with a hole in the center. A doughnut.”

Justin’s rating: It was Mr. Green in the conservatory with the dagger! Well, I tried, anyway.

Justin’s review: When you’ve seen just so many generic blockbusters and films that are out to be an “experience” to pluck at your emotions rather than your brain, it can absolutely bowl you over when a movie comes along with a genuinely thoughtful, interesting, and well-told story that engages your brain and thrills your soul. Knives Out had my inner self singing with delight at its end credits, gleeful that I’ve dined on a full gourmet course rather than a Happy Meal.

It’s certainly welcome to see director Rian Johnson return to the mystery field after his cult hit Brick. But instead of diving back into another film noir detective tale, Johnson elected to revive the tried-and-true formula of the whodunnit, somehow playing it both straight and subversive at the same time. It’s been so long since I’ve ingested a whodunnit that I forgot how delightful it is when one not only is meticulously crafted but also performed to the hilt.

Knives Out may start out like a traditional murder mystery — there’s a guy with a slit throat on a couch in a giant, Clue-like mansion, after all — but it quickly starts twisting and turning all over the place like some madcap ride with the audience in the passenger seat. The dead man is Harlan Thrombey (Chrisopher Plummer), a fabulously wealthy mystery novel writer who happens to have a family that’s riddled with dysfunction, distrust, and just plain weirdness. After a family dinner party goes awry, Harlan is found dead and both the cops and a private detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) are called in to investigate. Was it a suicide? Who really had motive? Who was where when during the night?

Those are only the start of the questions. Trust me, there are many, many more.

While it does start slowly in order to introduce the rather large cast of characters, Knives Out is, from beginning to end, thoroughly watchable. I immediately wanted to go back through it again just to examine the camera direction and pacing, but it’s much more than that. The puzzle pieces of the story are laid out in a fiendishly smart way, often giving you the end of an important part before going back to the beginning of it later on.

Plus, as part of your brain is tracking clues and working the mystery yourself, another part is laughing at all of the snarky and sly jokes that fly throughout this movie. I wasn’t expecting a comedy, but it is one… just not overtly.

And the best part, oh the best part, is the acting. Knives Out is just stuffed with a terrific cast that each relishes the opportunity to play an Agatha Christie-heightened version of a normal character. I loved how each person had their own distinguishable mannerisms, dress, and speech patterns that made them quite familiar by act two, but at the core of a great cast is Craig and Ana de Armas, who plays Harlan’s nurse Marta.

Craig chews into a southern accent with such relish that he somehow plows through complete parody and arrives at sincerity. He’s the kind of detective that many of us have loved for decades: The whip-smart guy who doesn’t miss a detail, is always looking for angles others have missed, and monologues to no one and everyone in particular. He’s also kind of a dork, which gave him a nice human dimension.

Counter to him is de Armas, who shows us a disarmingly compassionate and reasonably bright outsider who is caught up in the tempest of the mother of all family disagreements. Just as how Blanc navigates the mystery in his own fashion, Marta takes off on her own path that shows us that there’s more than meets the eye to this woman.

It would be no kindness here to spoil the plot, nor a need to. You just need to trust me when I say that this is a movie that should be seen, enjoyed, and rewatched by anyone who wants to find themselves lifted up by its excellence.

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