Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Knives Out - Review

The whodunit, a genre of mystery long overdue for a shock to the system, and who better to do that than writer and director Rian Johnson. With a little bit of poking at Agatha Christie style clich├ęs and an infusion of stylish, witty, and sharp writing, Johnson has provided a a modern version of murder mystery. And his skill as a storyteller, and joy in fooling the audience with twists and turns, make Knives Out a devilishly good time at the movies.

When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan's dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death.

Where some mysteries toy with the audience, revealing little of who did what or what happened, Knives Out is different. The reveals on potential motives happen immediately, provided through clever interviews with each character, introducing the personalities at play at the same time. Rian Johnson doesn’t even wait around to tell the audience who the suspect is, opting for the narrative choice of revealing doubts and pieces as the film plays out. This is a true ensemble film, an all-star cast that’s enjoying themselves in every moment, and utilized in the best ways by one of the best directors working today.

Even still, there are standouts in the cast. For one, Ana de Armas, as Thrombey’s nurse Marta, once again proves her chops as an actress, getting more of a vulnerable and quiet role than she’s been given before, but absolutely pulling the audience in as the sympathetic outsider to this wealthy family. While on the other side of the good-hearted coin is the dastardly, spoiled Chris Evans as Ransom. His emergence near the start of the second act adds immensely to an already stellar film, and his comedic timing and very cruel attitude to his other family members is clearly fun for Evans, who so often gets cast as the nice guy.
But above all else, and perhaps the best character contribution to the world in 2019, is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. Craig, a textbook example of a character actor born in a leading man’s body, is liberated from any aura of cool here, even if Blanc is quite debonair as a very southern detective, and his joy in this role is utterly contagious. If the world is just and fair, we will get more appearances from this character and all his quirks as he solves various murders.

At the end of the day, Knives Out is a ridiculous amount of fun, a rare occurrence of a big studio giving a creative talent free reign to run wild with a concept. Even then, as a purely fun ride of cinema greatness, there is another layer to Knives Out. Pieces of dialogue repeat that belittle the nurse Marta in passive-aggressive or punch down in subtle ways. Conversations on immigration or who America belongs to surface that feel icky leaving the mouths of a wealthy white family. And the terror of their lives stem not from a potential murderer amongst their ranks, but of a life where they can’t leach off their father or grandfather for their desires anymore. It’s a light touch of class commentary, but it’s there, if you only look for the clues.

Knives Out is the most enjoyable theater experience of 2019, with a little bit for everyone somewhere in the mix. Rian Johnson’s ability to tell a story are on full display, as is his ability to manage an ensemble cast and get fantastic performances from them on the way. Craig is easily the biggest standout, he gets a ton of dialogue to chew on and we would be so lucky to see more of his Benny Blanc tear into cases with a southern draw and a kind, gentlemanly demeanor. It’s a twisted, terrific, and tremendous achievement that will keep you guessing until the very end.

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