After dabbling in the Star Wars universe with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson returns with a brand new murder mystery. A modern twist to a classic genre with a stellar cast supporting the project ensures that the results are nothing short of stellar. As it indeed proves to be a “Whodunnit like no one has ever Dunnit.”
Knives Out tells the story of the Thrombey family who come together to celebrate the 85th birthday of Harlan Thrombey, the leader of the family, and a wealthy crime novelist. However, after the birthday has concluded, Harlan is found dead in his bedroom. The mysterious circumstances that surround his death lead to the police, and famed private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) getting involved to find out what happened on that fateful night.
The film opens with a wonderful shot of the mansion, which is the central location of the story, and we see a pair of dogs running towards the screen in slow motion with an ominous score attached to the visual. It’s a subtle, yet powerful opening that sets the tone for Knives Out, and shows us details that have far greater meaning than the audience would suspect.
Although there are countless incredible performances, the standout piece of the Knives Out puzzle is undoubtedly Daniel Craig’s “passive observer of the truth,” Benoit Blanc. Craig’s performance is fantastic, and he carries the narrative effortlessly with an abundance of charisma and charm (not too dissimilar to his portrayal of 007). Also, Benoit Blanc encapsulates the film’s tone and style. Blanc is built up with an air of mystery surrounding him, as he silently watches the family partake in interviews with the police. A build-up that is far more meaningful than any potential grand entrance. And just like the film itself, Blanc switches from serious to humorous in the blink of an eye. A perfect example being when he overuses his “doughnut hole” analogy in the most dramatic of moments, which results in an unexpected burst of laughter at a time audiences least expect it.
In addition to Craig’s performance, Chris Evans proves to be a real treat, as he finally breaks away from his on-screen persona of Captain America. Evans plays the bad seed of the Thrombey family, Ransom. Although his presence is not as big as Craig’s, his performance is terrifically engaging and hilarious, especially when one by one, he tells his family to “eat shit.”
Rian Johnson pieces the narrative together beautifully by ensuring every detail, no matter how minute the detail maybe, every character trait, prop has a purpose and returns to have a significant impact on the film. The cinematography is another terrific part of Knives Out as the plethora of close-ups keeps you in the thick of the action, and forces you to feel the true emotions of every single character on screen.
When it comes to the “Whodunnit” films, the challenge is, of course, keeping the audience on their toes and keep them guessing from one moment to another. For the most part, the film does that, but there is a pretty predictable twist that takes place in a critical part of the story. Consequently, due to the expected nature of the twist, we have a rather slow and less engaging build-up to the grand finale. You never lose interest. However, there is a period where that sense of excitement seems to dwindle, which does hurt the momentum of Rian Johnson’s murder mystery.
Fortunately, Knives Out’s climax lifts you back up and leaves you grinning from ear to ear with how intelligently they piece together the series of events, with a range of smart twists and turns that you do not expect.
Ultimately, this murder mystery leaves you guessing, laughing, and smiling as it reminds us how much of a cinematic treat this genre can be when done right.
Dir: Rian Johnson
Scr: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer
Prd: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson
DoP: Steve Yedlin
Music: Nathan Johnson
Runtime: 134 minutes