[#2020oscardeathrace] Knives Out (2019)

Director: 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

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

131 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]

 

When it was announced that writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) would be making a murder mystery before returning to helm a trilogy of Star Wars films (I’m still convinced this will happen, but maybe it’s just my wanting), I was shocked but rather interested. After all, the subgenre of Agatha Christie-inspired murder mysteries had kind of dried in recent years outside of adaptations of her work like Murder on the Orient Express. Rian Johnson, who had dealt in the mystery genre several years earlier with Brick, seemed like the perfect choice to restart this once beloved subgenre, and I was all for it.

Famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, Beginners, The Last Full Measure) is dead. The death has been ruled a suicide, but someone unknown has hired the last great sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale, Logan Lucky) to investigate. It would seem that Harlan had no true friends within his family, and each of them has a motive strong enough to be a suspect, but just who did it? As lies are created and truths are uncovered, the family is turns on one another, and it’s up to Blanc to find the donut hole, the missing piece of the story.

Where to begin with this film? First off, we have to address Johnson’s tone for the film. It’s fun, sarcastic, stylish, and engaging. He sets most of the action in one location, Harlan’s mansion, a gorgeously-designed set that I just wanted to spend more time in. There are homages all throughout the mansion designed to invoke that classic mystery theme. Plus, it’s just a damn creepy house. Beyond that, the house and the characters residing in it feel real within the universe Johnson has constructed. The house feels lived-in. The characters feel like they have long lists of experiences to pull from. Everything fits, like puzzle pieces expertly placed to give a  clearer image and a staggering conclusion.

Daniel Craig leads the cast as Blanc with a truly molasses-mouth scene-chewing take on his character that is set to become iconic in years to come. His mannerisms, speech patterns, and physicality make Benoit Blanc a treat to be with, and that’s much like the mansion. I wanted to spend time with these characters. Not in the way that they are friendly, but in the way that they are fun to watch.

Each of the members of Thrombey’s extended family is like a slightly-damaged, partially-fractured chess piece arranged on a board, and Johnson is playing against himself. I was primarily taken with Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, The Informer) as Marta, Harlan’s nurse, who feels alienated within the family even though they all claim that she’s a part of it. Then there is Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and her husband Richard (Vault, TV’s Miami Vice), who play very well on their own but have a dynamite chemistry when put together.

In fact, the cast is pitch-perfect, and there’s no real time to talk about all of them, but I have to give a shout to Chris Evans (The Avengers, The Read Sea Diving Resort) as Ransom, Harlan’s grandson, the loud-mouthed privileged youth who obviously has no friends within the family. Evans plays against-type when compared to his decade as Captain America with Ransom, and it’s a welcome return to the smarmy roles he was once more well-known for.

If there’s a flaw in the film, and I do believe there is one for me, it’s that certain reveals in the film happen far earlier than I would have liked, and I think the mystery would have been stronger if we were kept wondering for longer. That, and I personally was able to see where it was going a little earlier than I would’ve liked. Perhaps I was just good at guessing, as I’ve spoken to others who did not see the end coming. My suggestion would be not to try and unravel the mystery, but instead, enjoy the journey, because it’s a damn good one.

Knives Out is an elegantly-constructed Whodunnit with incredible performances, great production design, and a director at the helm who really understands story and tone. This was enjoyable as hell and I cannot wait to see it again. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out comes highly recommended.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

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