It feels necessary to open this review for KNIVES OUT, the latest film from Rian Johnson, with the confession that when I wasn’t looking, I kinda became a massive Rian Johnson fan? I don’t feel the need to compare KNIVES OUT to his previous films, but it is undeniably a part of that incredibly high quality whole.
I am hard pressed to think of an element of KNIVES OUT that wasn’t excellent. The script is tight as a drum, the performances are nuanced and evocative, the soundtrack perfectly suits each scene, and the design of it all is just… *chef’s kiss*
The premise of the film is simple: Wealthy Agatha Christie-via-Ernest Hemingway crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has his family over for his 85th birthday. Sometime between the end of the party and the next morning, he dies of an apparent suicide. Shortly after, an anonymous benefactor hires Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate what the police have already just about sewn up. WHODUNNIT indeed!
Thrombey’s house (aka the movie’s set for the majority of the film), is exactly the sort of New England gothic rich people house you’d expect of a crime novelist. Brilliant attention is paid to the design of this house. Posters, bric-a-brac (they are too WASPy for tchotchkes), sculptures, and a mixed media piece reminiscent of the Iron Throne give us a very clear view of Thrombey’s tastes. He is every bit the eccentric old crime novelist, he just happens to be worth many millions of dollars. Better, that the decorations were chosen to be used as shorthand is put into practice time and again. This is a movie made for repeat viewings, for shots to be paused and gone over with a magnifying glass.
And all of this before we’ve even gotten to the performances!
True to trope, we see the events of the movie repeatedly from different angles, from the various points of view of the Thrombey family. As each member takes their turn in the hot seat, we see the surface masks of Harlan Thrombey’s children. Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette do their worst as entitled, grasping, self-important jerks. Each character, in their own way, is convinced they are right, and never did anything wrong. The contrast of how good they believe themselves to be, and how awful they actually are, is best projected onto...
Relative newcomer Ana de Armas, who holds her own against this absolute murderer’s row of topliners as kindhearted nurse Marta Cabrera. She is a true cinnamon roll who is too good for this world. Thrombey hires Cabrera to care for him after a shoulder injury, but mostly because he wants a friend. Thrombey treasures her intelligence, and their friendship is plain to see in the scenes we get of them.
Thrombey’s grandchildren, played by Jaeden Martell, Katherine Langford, and of course, Chris Evans, are an excellent cross section of different types of children born to the purple in 2019. You have Meg (Langford), the softhearted Smith co-ed who has liberal values, but has not examined her privilege, and then there’s Jacob (Martell), the dead-eyed, Alt-Right keyboard warrior/teen fascist. Last, but not least, showing up in the much-talked-about sweaters, is Ransom (Evans), the Patrick Bateman for a New Millenium. A softer, gentler, less overtly toxic form of the species, but worth keeping an eye on all the same.
Daniel Craig gives the sort of performance that reminds you that comedy is harder than drama, and that dramatic actors make the best comedic actors. While he’s best known for stone faced Bond and Bond-type roles, Craig goes for a true character to bring us Benoit Blanc. With an accent somewhere between Foghorn Leghorn and Futurama’s Hyperspace Chicken Lawyer, Craig makes everyone believe he’s more Pink Panther than Poirot. Further, you get the sense there’s a whole stack of possible Benoit Blanc mysteries kicking around in Rian Johnson’s head. Blanc is truly a character with many of his own stories to tell.
Rian Johnson frequent flyer, Noah Segan, delivers a delightful performance as Trooper Wagner, an unabashed Thrombey fanboy. His delight that he gets to solve! a murder! Thrombey’s murder! suffuses every scene he’s in. Rounding out the investigative team is LaKeith Stanfield as Lieutenant Elliott, who is clearly exasperated by Blanc’s appearance at a crime scene he was about to close. There are many scenes where Lieutenant Elliott has clearly had it up to here with Blanc’s folksy antics that feel like the combination of so many famous detectives, to say nothing of Trooper Wagner’s fanboying.
In summation: See this movie. See it knowing as little about it as possible (she wrote, at the end of a 700+ word review). It is a delight, and worth watching and rewatching for years to come.
KNIVES OUT is out now in theaters nationwide.