There’s nothing like a good ol’-fashioned whodunnit. For some reason though, Hollywood seems to struggle when it comes to making quality murder mysteries. However, Rian Johnson’s newest film, Knives Out, is one of the best Agatha Christie-like mysteries one is likely to find in all of cinema. Johnson comes fresh off of helming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was a mixed bag despite great talent behind the camera. This film proves that Johnson has still got it: in fact, this may be his best effort yet. From the very first shot, Knives Out digs its hooks into the audience, and it finally lets go when the credits roll. While it may not be the most critically acclaimed or subtle film of the decade, it is one of the most engaging and crowd-pleasing, which may be even more difficult to get away with.
It has the typical plot of a classic mystery. Famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found with his throat slit after a party in which his whole family attended. The local detectives rule the case as an open and shut suicide, but private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) believes there is foul play involved. And thus the investigation begins. This cast of characters is some of the best assembled in recent memory, and every member of the family has plenty of moments to shine, whether it be comically or dramatically. Every single cast member brings their A-game here, which, along with the razor-sharp writing from Johnson, makes the interchange between the ensemble while in the Clue-like house electrifying.
When it comes to the acting, the three standouts are Craig as the Hercule Poirot-like private investigator, Ana de Armas as the seemingly-innocent nurse caught up in the action, and Chris Evans as the restless and disagreeable grandson of the deceased. Each brings something completely different to the table, but all three of them are the same degree of fantastic. Craig’s character has a distinctive Southern drawl, and he uses this aspect of his character to create a cartoonish but convincing central detective. Every line that comes out of his mouth is said with enthusiasm and it is easy to tell that Craig is relishing every second he has onscreen. Ana de Armas, however, balances out the wild and over-the-top Blanc with weight and sincerity. Her character is the emotional core of the film, and Armas is more than willing to step up to the plate. She has played other fantastic roles before (Blade Runner 2049 namely), but here she delivers her best performance. Evans, meanwhile, is just plain fun. No other actor could have been cast that would match his pitch perfect line delivery, which can make the entire audience laugh and shiver in the same scene.
Knives Out is more intelligent than anything with this large of a cast has any right to be. By the end, every single loose end has been tied up and every storyline decision throughout the runtime makes perfect sense. I was surprised to learn that this involved and complex mystery wasn’t based off of source material of any kind: this was an original concept from Rian Johnson. This just goes to show that more original material and filmmakers need to be encouraged by Hollywood. If more material like this smart and twisty thriller is made frequently, then imagine what awesome content audiences would be receiving in the future. No offense to all of the successful franchise films, but it’s refreshing to take in a new experience every once in a while.
Along with being a suspenseful and gripping experience, it also contains some of the funniest scenes of this year so far. The scene shown in the trailer in which Evans insults the entire family with his charming malice is particularly gut-busting. I almost missed the first half of the next scene because my theater was laughing so hard from the events of that scene. Johnson is fantastic at injecting the humor and the suspense at the right moments, and balances the tone so that no scene feels out of place. The only nitpick I have is that the film concludes a bit fast–after the big conclusion I was still expecting more–but this gripe is nullified by the fantastic execution of the ending.
Every type of audience member will have a great time watching Knives Out. It is the most crowd-pleasing movie of 2019 so far, and will give fans of the genre and average moviegoers exactly what they are looking for. The fantastic cast is the icing on the cake that is the electric writing and direction from Rian Johnson. After Looper and his episodes of Breaking Bad, I was already interested in Johnson’s work, but now I am a certified fan. Knives Out may not change the landscape of awards season, but it’s probably more intelligent and memorable than most of the “Oscar” movies that will be released in the coming weeks.
I give Knives Out an A.