Knives Out cuts its way to a top spot among the best films of 2019 with a terrific ensemble, a smart script and masterful direction.
There’s a certain irony in the title as that’s how a certain raid pack of Star Wars fans would greet director/writer Rian Johnson following his divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The good news for all involved is Knives Out has far more in common with Johnson’s breakout, Looper, than his trip to a galaxy far, far away.
The very wealthy Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has turned up dead following his 85th birthday party. While all signs point to suicide, the famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, Spectre) has been recruited to help police Lt. Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield, Get Out) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan, Looper), a Harlan fanboy, with their investigation.
Blanc believes Harlan’s death wasn’t as clear cut as someone wants them to believe and questions all of Harlan’s family and staff. And as it turns out there’s plenty of viable suspects. Blanc takes an interest in Harlan’s kindly nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas, Blade Runner 2049), to help assess the family.
There’s Harlan’s daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband (Don Johnson) and their son Ransom (Chris Evans, Avengers: Endgame). Harlan’s son, Walt (Michal Shannon, 12 Strong), who runs his father’s business empire could be a culprit or maybe his wife (Riki Lindhome) or son (Jaeden Martell, It Chapter Two). Or maybe it’s self-help guru/in-law hanger-on Joni (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine) and her daughter (Katherine Langford)?
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Johnson sets up the film in a very clever fashion revealing key elements of the mystery much sooner than you’d expect. His unconventional storytelling method allows him to frame the film in a different manner and turns a standard murder mystery into something else entirely. To say more would be spoiling way too much.
David Crank’s production design added so much to that classic murder mystery setup as Harlan’s house is a towering, intimidating structure filled with numerous dark shadows and obscured perspectives. David Schlesinger set decoration is just as important as the house is littered with memorabilia including that instantly iconic circle of knives.
It feels like Johnson knew he had something special and there’s this real sense that all the fun Johnson had in making the film came across in every aspect from the narrative, perspectives and the performances.
It’s always fun watching actors skilled enough to do so pulling off different accents. For this role, Craig plays Blanc like a mix of Foghorn Leghorn and Columbo. That’s not a combination many actors can pull off, but Craig does it expertly with that gleam in his eyes to suggest Blanc knows way more than he’s letting on. Collette goes for a spaced-out hippie vibe that’s very funny.
There’s not a weak link in the cast as each gets at least one solid showcase scene. It’s nice to see de Armas shine in a more featured role after largely filling in supporting parts. I also really enjoyed Stanfield playing against type for this genre. Evans was a fun surprise as the foul-mouthed Ransom while Curtis can’t help but be great in all her roles at this stage in her career.
Some whodunit films never quite manage to hold up after the first viewing. I don’t think that’s the case with Knives Out thanks to the way Johnson plays everything out, but it’s still better going in not knowing the culprit. Come for the mystery, stay for the laughs and tremendous characters and enjoy the spectacle of one of the year’s best films.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Lionsgate