REVIEW: Knives Out (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Lionsgate

The following is a review of Knives Out — a Rian Johnson whodunnit.

Are Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery films making a quiet comeback right under our noses? In 2017, Kenneth Branagh resurrected the genre on the big screen with his adaptation of Murder On the Orient Express, which is getting a sequel in 2020. Earlier in 2019, Kyle Newacheck released an Adam Sandler-led murder mystery film titled Murder Mystery, which I suggested might be “the most watchable of Sandler’s made-for-Netflix comedies.” Now we have Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which isn’t just the best of the bunch, it’s also genuinely one of the most entertaining films of the year. Knives Out is a fresh and modern labyrinthine murder mystery complete with a stylish main location, as well as witty and timely social and political satire.

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out tells the story of the investigation into the suspected murder of a wealthy murder mystery novelist named Harlan Thrombey (played by Christopher Plummer), who either died by suicide or was murdered at night after his 85th birthday. Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig), a confident private detective, suspects foul play precisely because he was hired to investigate the murder by someone unwilling to give their identity to him. Blanc teams-up with local detectives as well as Marta Cabrera (played by Ana de Armas), Harlan’s good-hearted but nervous private nurse, to investigate the suspected murder. Everyone in the family is a suspect — including but not limited to a cheating spouse (played by Don Johnson) and a desperate lifestyle guru (played by Toni Collette) — and Marta is exactly the right partner for Blanc because just the thought of lying makes her want to puke.

Knives Out is the kind of film that you want to champion. Not only does it breathe new life into an older subgenre. It is also a completely original film, as well as a product of a filmmaker who has been unfairly maligned by toxic online fandoms due to his critically acclaimed film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which ended up being polarizing among general audiences. Johnson is a gifted genre filmmaker, and his latest film is easily his most rewatchable, even though it does feel a little bit too long. The plot is twisty and surprising, and I was delighted by the fact that it still knew how to upend my expectations when I thought I had figured everything out by the halfway point. Though many of the characters are just entitled and self-important caricatures, each and every character is so incredibly entertaining to watch.

In no way, shape, or form outshone by any of the other castmembers, Ana de Armas gives a triumphant breakthrough leading performance as Marta Cabrera. Ana de Armas made her presence known in Blade Runner 2049, wherein she proved just how much of a magnetic screen presence she can be and she lives up to that potential in Knives Out, which gives her a much meatier role. Daniel Craig gives an outstanding scenery-chewing performance as the detective with a fancy name. The Bond actor’s performance is something of a mixture between the hilarious and surprising performance he gave in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky and an impression of Frank Underwood from Netflix’s House of Cards. He is wildly entertaining, and so is his fascinations with doughnuts and doughnut holes. Other standouts in the cast include Toni Collette, whose mannerisms are, frankly, delightful here, Christopher Plummer, who you miss the moment he leaves the film, and Chris Evans, who seems to have found great pleasure in playing an unpleasant but comedic character (like he did in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) after having spent years playing a virtuous soldier like Captain America.

This is a suspenseful, surprising, sharp, and side-splitting film. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is filled to the brim with gloriously eye-catching production design and set decoration, witty, modern, and surprisingly political dialogue, and a star-studded cast having the time of their lives. It is a riveting and glorious crowdpleaser that is probably going to be regarded as one of the year’s most rewatchable films.

9.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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