Knives Out (2019)
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson | runtime: 2h 10mins | Comedy, Drama, Crime
Shortly after his 85th birthday, millionaire crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plumber) is potentially murdered in his upstairs office. Out of his large, eccentric family, everyone is a suspect, and private investigator Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) alongside Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) must uncover the truth.
Modern day whodunit’s have started to lack the originality and surprise of the stories they’re inspire, more deflating than exciting. TV has always been kind to Sherlock Holmes and just about every Agatha Christie story, but it’s been a while since an interesting murder mystery came to the big screen. Fresh from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson took time away from battling his blockbuster’s detractors to bring us the fresh, original and exciting whodunit that we’ve been needing.
The first note is the size and quality of the cast; it feels like just about everyone who has been in a film before is in Knives Out, and it’s a real testament to Johnsons skills as a filmmaker to create such a large ensemble of eclectic and unique characters, with almost all of them being used to their best potential. There’s only really two characters that feel like they’re a little lost in the shuffle, but they still each have their times to shine. That being said, there are a number of standouts that bring so much to the film as a whole; Daniel Craig feels like he’s reminding us that he’s a fantastic actor, he isn’t just Bond. the accent is a little distracting at first, most of the audience are probably so accustomed to his British spy persona that a Southern, Kentucky-esque voice is incredibly unfamiliar. However, once we’re used to this it’s so easy to get lost in his performance, effortlessly charismatic and so entertaining to watch. He almost reaches the point of Poirot caricature – but that’s the point, Johnson spends much of his time presenting you with cliche’s and subverting them in the most humorous ways. There are plenty of fantastically cast roles throughout; Jamie Lee Curtis as the eldest daughter Linda Toni Collette as the daughter-in-law Joni are spectacular, and much like Craig, have done very different roles in recent years, showing us here why they are some of the best in the industry.
As previously mentioned, the setting is just as eccentric as the characters, a line from one of the detectives about the house being like a board of Clue (Cluedo for us British). The whole house the grounds that surround it are gloriously rich in colour and splendidly shot by cinematographer Steve Yedlin, even when they venture out into the nearby town it’s still just as good to look at.
The story itself surrounds the death of family patriarch Harlan Thrombey, even though he may not be physically present for much of the runtime Christophers Plumber’s presence is really felt throughout. He’s found dead the morning after his party, throat slit, by housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson). For us, we see each member of the family interviewed by police investigators Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) which acts as a wonderfully entertaining way of introducing all of the characters and their relationship to their father/grandfather. They’re all asked the same questions, so it effortlessly flows between each one, sometimes a flashback revealing what actually happens to the lie they’re presenting to the police. Johnsons witty and fun dialogue makes all of this so enjoyable to watch, visually interesting as well as the manor Harlan owned is as quirky and eccentric as the family in it.
Benoit Blanc sits back, occasionally hitting a key on the piano beside him, merely listening before conducting a line of questions of his own. Once he meets Marta, Harlan’s personal nurse and close friend, he finds out about her strange habit of vomiting if she lies. He uses this to his advantage, making a sort of Sherlock/Watson duo to uncover the truth. We see a grandson of Harlan from time to time, Linda’s son Ransom, and much like the rest of the cast Chris Evans reminds us how talented he really is, and that he isn’t Captain America forever. The narrative is wonderfully exciting, twists and turns everywhere but each time keeps you guessing as to what happened to Harlan Thrombey. There’s themes of wealth and social inequality, to say it’s subtle would perhaps be too kind, but it isn’t weighed down by political commentary, instead it acts as a well-played out discussion throughout.
Potentially the only downfall of the film is how original and engaging the first two thirds are, as the final act is good but not quite as great as everything that precedes it. It still grips you, and is certainly exciting with a satisfying conclusion, but lacks a certain level of originality in the writing and presentation of the closing act that the rest of the film is so great at. It certainly doesn’t drag the film down, but it does hold it back from being a really excellent piece of cinema, and we have to settle with just an excellent film instead.
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