Review by Sean Boelman
From left to right. Richard (Don Johnson), Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Ransom (Chris Evans) Great Nana (K Callan), Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) Walt (Michael Shannon), Jacob (Jaeden Lieberher), Donna (Riki Lindholm), Joni (Toni Collette) and Meg (Katherine Langford) in KNIVES OUT. Photo credit: Claire Folger.
Knives Out, the newest film from writer-director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), is an old-school whodunit with a large and talented ensemble cast. Although the middle section of the movie does drag on for a bit too long, this manages to be a thoroughly entertaining flick.
The film follows a dysfunctional family as their conflict comes to a head when the patriarch of the family dies mysteriously. Although the story is obviously very influenced by the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie, Johnson puts a unique spin on the genre that never quite hits the level of parody, but still addresses the tropes in an entertaining and tongue-in-cheek way. The result is a movie that will satiate audiences’ cravings both for laughs and for a twisty mystery.
As one would expect, this film is heavily dependent on twists, and it is best enjoyed if audiences go in knowing as little as possible about the reveals. Much of the movie’s runtime is spent building towards the end, and while the point at which the film ends isn’t entirely expected, it also doesn’t offer a satisfying conclusion given the unorthodox nature of what came before.
The first act and final act of the movie are undeniably the strongest, with the middle portion losing some of the steam that is established by the introduction. Ultimately, there are enough laughs in this center portion to keep viewers interested in the events of the film, but one can’t help but feel like this section of the movie is missing something. Although this portion is necessary to the story in the long-run, it does take a bit more patience in this section than a movie like this otherwise should.
As is the case with any great whodunit, there is a large ensemble of wacky characters to be the suspects in the case. Although there are some characters who have more of an arc than others, even those who are archetypal serve a purpose and are quite entertaining to watch. And of course, Johnson’s version of Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot, Benoit Blanc, is enormously entertaining to watch.
Daniel Craig’s performance as the over-the-top detective is frequently hilarious, and while it doesn’t have a great deal of emotional nuance, it accomplishes the goals of the film quite will without fail. The rest of the cast is also excellent, but they are used to various degrees of effectiveness. For example, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ana de Armas are both wonderful and are given plenty to do in the movie, but Jaeden Martell and Don Johnson both feel disappointingly underused.
On a technical level, the film is also very good, creating an atmosphere that is successfully reminiscent of the genre’s greats. The cinematography and production design are both great, very much setting the movie in the modern day but also giving a very nostalgic feel to the product. Additionally, the score by Nathan Johnson is one of the year’s best, setting the film’s tone quite well.
Knives Out doesn’t have the depth of Johnson’s earlier work, but it shows that he has command of how to make a compelling and entertaining popcorn flick. Thanks to a great cast and crew giving it their all, this is a crowd-pleaser perfect for the long weekend.
Knives Out opens in theaters on November 27.