Review: Knives Out

Knives Out movie poster

A modern whodunnit thriller. Funny, classy, but a little simplistic.

When a famous author is found dead, seemingly within a closed room in his family’s house, his nurse becomes the centre of attention as a private investigator is called in. But stranger things are afoot.

Released in 2019, director Rian Johnson (who at the time was also famous for films Brick and Looper) created a unique, detective thriller in Knives Out. He did also director Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017. It would be an understatement to say that this film was divisive, and as such Knives Out took some of the fallout, with genre movie fans boycotting the film, while others found themselves enjoying the film.

Overall, yeah, this is a pretty good movie. The imminent sequel could be a lot of fun too.

A star-studded cast: Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Daniel Craig and his future No Time to Die co-star Ana de Armas, fill out a huge selection of characters to muddy the proceedings and bury the culprit with false leads. Indeed, the opening half hour of the film is excellent. We have intrigue, mystery, a huge mansion with weird objects and set design everywhere, odd and eccentric characters who have endless possible motives.
There’s plenty of flashbacks and history for these characters as well, which only further spins the web of complexity that audiences need to decipher. Then there is, at the centre of most scenes, Daniel Craig, chewing the scenery apart with a ridiculous American accent. It is hilarious, but after some time it becomes part of the character’s eccentricity.

The film therefore starts very strongly. We have a mysterious murder, without clear point of entry; a locked-room murder. We have distinct characters who each seem culpable and also not, and a detective fiercely intent on solving the case.

Now, we need to get into the main issue with the film.

The cast of the Knives Out movie

It is surprisingly early that Daniel Craig’s Holmesian Benoit Blanc solves huge parts of the mystery, eliminating several of the cast’s potential to be part of the plot. This is compounded by an element of the film’s protagonist, Ana de Armas’ Marta Cabrera, who cannot lie without violently vomiting. Which, for sure, is very funny, and adds to the film’s levity and quirky personality. But it also defuses a lot of the classic “whodunnit” murder case dynamic.

Also, there are flashbacks that give away most of the mystery.

So, it isn’t a hardcore murder mystery. But when compared to, say, Robert Downey Jr’s turn as Sherlock Holmes recently, it is far more compelling and far more successful at leading the audience. There was always a sense in the recent Holmes movies that the audience was only able to hang on Holmes’s word, unable to solve it themselves because the film provides no real clues. But Knives Out does provide those clues, small hints and suggestions, mostly with the power of deduction.

If you are expecting a truly complex murder mystery, you might be a little disappointed.

The film does evolve into a fun thrill ride, at times even escalating into a chase movie with the comedic stylings of a Edgar Wright movie (there’s even a reference to “Baby Driver” in the movie.) So while it isn’t the hard bitten detective caper one might have expected and wanted, it was certainly entertaining and had enough twists and misdirection to be a little surprising.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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