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Review: Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out (2019)

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Premise: The family of a recently deceased millionaire (Christopher Plummer) gathers at his home for the will reading. A private detective (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play and enlists the deceased’s millionaire’s personal attendant (Ana de Armas) to investigate.

What Works: Knives Out is a combination of old and new filmmaking. The murder mystery is an old fashioned kind of storytelling that isn’t in vogue right now but Knives Out is made with the energy and polish of contemporary filmmaking and the picture reconciles past and present to make a fun piece of entertainment. One of the contemporary filmmaking techniques used quite well in Knives Out is non-linear storytelling. The film begins between the funeral and the will reading as the private detective interviews the family members. The story then jumps between past and present, revealing each of the characters’ stories and repeats events from different vantage points. Writer and director Rian Johnson is smart about what information to give us and when; Knives Out lets us in on a lot of information early on but then uses that knowledge to create tension and tell a more complicated story. The film pairs its story with a great cast. Knives Out is led by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig as the millionaire’s personal attendant and the private investigator investigating his death. Armas plays it straight and her vulnerability conveys the stakes of the drama while Craig is very broad as a southern gentleman. Together they are a lot of fun to watch. The supporting actors are quite strong as well especially the ensemble cast which includes Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and Chris Evans as members of the bereaved family. Everyone is distinct and the actors bring a lot of subtly to their characters which deepens the drama. Knives Out is also impressive in its political subtext. This is a political film but the moviemakers allow the ideas to emerge organically within the drama. There is no attempt to impress the viewer with how woke the movie is and that makes the political content all the more effective.

What Doesn’t: Knives Out climaxes with the classic exposition scene in which the private detective spells out the mystery for the audience and for the suspects. This sequence goes on a little too long and requires several conjectures. It works well enough but part of the joy of a mystery is in the way the film steers the viewer and feeds us just enough information to piece together the answer. The ending of Knives Out has so much to explain that the pleasure of discovery is lessened.

Bottom Line: Knives Out is a fun murder mystery. The film works within the framework of a story like this but gives it depth and texture with its colorful characters and political themes.

Episode: #780 (December 15, 2019)