Movie Review: "Knives Out"
by Tommy Delp | published Apr. 6th, 2020
While comparisons between 'Knives Out' and 'Clue' are easy to make, I find the film better fits the idea of a story with holes.
In high school, I had a teacher who would constantly pull out a type of brain teaser to help entertain her students. The idea is simple enough. You're given a quirky little tale with key pieces of information missing and it's then your job to determine the missing bits. Nothing may click in the beginning, but something is clearly amiss and one key clue will likely bring the whole story hurtling towards its explanation and conclusion. In short, it was a story with holes.
When I was younger, I didn't really understand the point or fun in this type of storytelling. I felt like they were always meant to stump you rather than make any logical sense (although they always did in the end).
'Knives Out' has helped me to better understand the attraction to these types of stories though. Sure, things are tricky and misleading on purpose and you'll probably be guessing until the end, but that's the whole point of it! When there's an interesting narrative at play, mystery and excitement can go hand in hand.
'Knives Out' centers around Harlan Thrombey, a world-famous murder mystery novelist and patriarch of the dysfunctional yet affluent family. When he passes away suddenly and unexpectedly, the police are ready to declare it an unfortunate case of suicide. But when private detective and modern-day Sherlock Holmes, Benoit Blanc, arrives on the Thrombey's doorstep, the family proceedings unravel into a messy web of lies and misdeeds.
Politically charged and subversive, Rian Johnson's surprisingly timely take on a murder mystery trickles information to the viewer. The way the film weaves between narratives and structures is bound to keep sleuths of any age entertained. Great setups and payoffs are the most important part of this genre, and 'Knives Out' is chock full of them.
Production-wise, the film is gorgeous and well-made. The New England countryside provides charming and natural visuals that fit the film's Victorian style and narrative, and the violin-led score is sharp and effective.
It's bright and cheery even with its darker subject matter, so you'll never have any trouble spotting important clues in a poorly-lit scene. The camera work is also enjoyable, as it often twists, turns and swoops to keep up with the film's story.
It may sound silly without context, but the film's final shot is worth a special mention. It's wonderfully epic and filled with a great amount of poetic justice.
Filled with great performances, every member of the cast is given a chance to shine. Daniel Craig's hokey country drawl, in particular, is a constant joy. I also personally love 90 year old Christopher Plummer, who steals the first act of the film as Harlan Thrombey.
Some of the characters are a bit one-note, but the film is aware of that and knows which characters deserve more focus. Props to the lead though (which is a spoiler in and of itself), for delivering a more subdued performance in a film where everyone else feels directly knocked off of a 'Clue' board.
While the ensemble cast is excellent and deserve much praise for all of their performances, the real standout character here is Johnson's work. The movie is soaked in modern-age commentary and much more connected to the real world than other current films. His hands are all over the piece from the whip-smart script and dialogue, to the smooth camera work.
Rian Johsnon is really a director's director. He clearly puts his heart and soul into his films and leaves his own indelible mark on them. This is a positive in many ways. You can tell when a movie oozes with passion like 'Knives Out.' There is only one issue with this type of auteur though.
Rian Johnson will do what Rian Johnson does, and his flaws often carry from film to film.
Just like many of his other pieces, the humor in 'Knives Out' can be hit or miss. Being a modern and relative film, a few of the jokes and punchlines have already fell out of the zeitgeist from when the film was written.
Although, with some of the comedic misfires, I have to wonder if anyone would have ever found them funny to begin with.
Also the pacing, while serviceable, has its flaws. It can go a fair amount of time without any big story development, to dumping a lot on the viewer all at once.
This is not a complete negative for a film working in the murder mystery genre, as it still helps to heighten suspense. Things probably could have been spread out slightly better though. When the film's highs are so high, it can be difficult to get through the less exciting moments.
It should be noted that none of the flaws are anywhere near deal-breakers. If you're looking for a good time, 'Knives Out' is the perfect movie.
It's hard to speak on the topical themes at play within the film without spoiling major plot details. I'm willing to avoid the subject entirely though, as the less you know going in, the better! Hopefully though, the film’s tackling of hot button issues will help to make it a timely classic for our era.
With 'Knives Out,' classic Agatha Christie tropes are infused with modern style. A great cast and a witty script make for a rollicking good time. And to top it all off, the movie provides a perfect bow to tie everything together — just as a good whodunit should!