KNIVES OUT Review

"The exception that proves the rule."

The movies are nothing alike in terms of what they're about, how they're directed, tone, nothing. There's nothing similar about these movies at all really except for that, from the moment they begin, there is a sense of supreme assuredness in where they're going and how they're meant to get there. This feeling arises at the beginning of a fair amount of movies because there are so many that begin with such promise yet so many of them tend to lose themselves along the way or lose momentum or more often than not encounter the issue of knowing where they want to go without being sure of the best, most effective way to get there. Nearly three years ago now, when Jordan Peele's Get Out began to play in front of me for the first time on that cold Thursday in late February, I was granted the sense of this supreme assuredness that continued throughout the entirety of the runtime and through to that perfect conclusion. It wasn't difficult to see every aspect had been labored over and planned to a to T; as if not only the script, but the way in which each shot was constructed and how each line was delivered held a certain weight and intention. Every element had seemingly been executed with precise detail so as to convey this strong, specific point of view. In short, Get Out was a movie where every piece held a purpose all of which led to a culmination that fully displayed the power of the narrative, the charisma of the characters and the masterful way in which the filmmaker used the genre he was operating in to make his complex ideas accessible. This is all said not in an attempt to remind readers of how satisfying Get Out is, but to say all of this is very much true of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out as well.

On the surface, Knives Out is a movie crafted in the vein of Clue or an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, but these genre constructs are only present to (mostly) serve as the conduit for writer/director Johnson to better express his feelings about, his concerns for, his frustrations with and his fears concerning America in 2019. Johnson is known for having split the Star Wars community in half with his previous film, Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, but before he took on a Star Wars movie he began his career in smaller fare like Brick before moving into bigger, but still very original features like The Brothers Bloom and Looper. Each of these films have a distinct nature in terms of the type of storytelling or genre Johnson is conveying his voice and ideas through and that is very much the case with Knives Out. When Johnson is working within a genre that allows him the room to elaborate on characters and scenarios in the way that he very clearly enjoys doing it is a formula that is almost unstoppable. Knives Out is a near-perfect film not only because it serves this allegorical purpose, but also because it can be enjoyed simply as a murder-mystery as it is wholly satisfying on just this level. 

Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) knows there is more to Marta (Ana de Armas) than appears in Knives Out.
Photo by Claire Folger/Claire Folger - © 2018 MRC II Distribution Company L.P. All rights reserved.
The stacked cast is having the time of their lives in a film that is so elegantly photographed as if it to pay homage to the time period of those Christie novels while still very much existing in and being relevant to today’s landscape and audience. Sure, you have the likes of Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Colette walking around your set, but this is undeniably Ana de Armas’ film and she is exceptional as this presence of true sincerity and intense conviction to the point she actually pukes if she has to lie. It is de Armas’ Marta that is the donut hole to this mystery’s donut; the filling that makes it whole. Also excellent is Chris Evans’ Ransom who nearly steals the show as this “black sheep” of the Thrombey dynasty by not only appearing as the audience surrogate for a fair portion of the family drama, but who is also the character Johnson uses to expertly build-up and upend audience expectation as every facet of not only the character, but Evans himself is considered in how the audience will perceive this guy. Michael Shannon is unsurprisingly sublime while Daniel Craig looks like he’s having more fun than he’s had since before Quantum of Solace opened. Craig’s Benoit Blanc and the further adventures of such would be the only way I’d be receptive of a sequel to this otherwise perfect stand-alone feature.

With Knives Out, Johnson reels you in under the guise the mystery is to be one thing, but the real mystery here isn’t what you suspect it to be and in breaking through this anticipated belief early on allows Johnson to not only deliver on the promise of a good “whodunit”, but layer in his characters and their revelations with pertinent commentary as to the sense of entitlement certain people feel. Johnson seems to broadly conclude that people who are inherently saddled with this belief of entitlement and their distaste for those who have been afforded opportunity alongside them is something he knows most of middle-class America can get behind and in many ways uses his film to not carve too fine a tip on certain sub-points, but more make obvious the common ground most can stand on as one. Sure, Evans has a certain “big speech” moment during the climax of the film that maybe hits the nail a little too square on the head, but if there was any doubt of Johnson’s true intent this also serves to make it explicitly clear. Finally, the music stands out immediately as Nathan Johnson’s score pairs perfectly with the stunning aesthetic Johnson and his long-time collaborator/cinematographer Steve Yedlin have devised; the shadow work here is gorgeous and, as stated earlier, simply elegant. Shout-out to Greatnana Wanetta. The final shot of this film is pure poetry. Amen.


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