Director: Rian Johnson
Staring: Danial Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford
Release Date: November 27, 2019
“I suspect foul play. I have eliminated no suspects.”
Pure fun. That’s what Knives Out is. It’s who-dun-it that rises above the filler and delivers comedy and smarts in an intriguing story that is told both thoughtfully and expediently by Rian Johnson. Danial Craig delivers the standout role as famous private investigator Benoit Blanc, who is hired (suspiciously unanimously) to investigate that untimely and apartment suicide of renowned suspense author Harlan Thrombey.
Mr. Blanc, along with police officers Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), must try and navigate through the various stories of personalities of those associated with the Thrombey name in order to find out what happened to family’s money-maker.
The majority of the Thrombey contingent is introduced through a series of interrogations performed by the Lt. Elliot and Trooper Wagner. We get insight into how each of these characters tick, as well as how the night of Harlan Thrombey’s death. It’s in these instances where Johnson’s artistic style first brushes Knives Out. All of the cuts and quick, to the point, and decisive. The story being told by all the characters is meshed between the various personalities and within 10 minutes the audience has a clear picture as to almost all the Thrombey family members operate. It’s exposition, but it’s anything but boring. And that’s before Mr. Blanc enters the picture.
Craig gives the highlight performance of Knives Out. He is lingering all-cool like in the background of the interrogations until eventually the family members call him out. Then his suave southern drawl and charisma begins to ooze out. It’s not a James Bond type magnetism, but rather a sheriff from the bayou who knows how to get things done. It’s the most impressed I’ve been by Craig since 2012’s Skyfall (which now I really must revisit).
Among the fantastic ensemble cast, there are a couple other great standouts. I am still amazed by Toni Collette and her ability to act with facial expressions. In Knives Out, she has the eye roll down pat for her greedy character, the daughter-in-law of Harlan Thrombey. Jamie Lee Curtis is delightful as Harlan’s daughter, Linda Drysdale. She has a different last name because she married Richard Drysdale, played by Don Johnson, whose talent now everywhere for me personally after seeing him as Judd Crawford in Watchmen.
The Harlan related family member who gets the most from their screen time is Ransom Drysdale, played by Chris Evans. The son of Linda and Richard, Ransom is the black sheep of the family. Evans is terrific playing the narcissistic asshole. He needed a win in the acting department after The Red Sea Diving Resort was a disappointing Netflix release, and Knives Out is that for him.
Then there is Ana de Armas. She plays Marta, the caretaker for Harlan Thrombey. Based solely off the trailers, she has a ton more screen time that hinted at. Luckily for the audience she is delightful and has the most chemistry when she shares the screen with Evans and Craig. Of a particular note, Armas is in the next Bond movie, No Time To Die (2020). Safe to say her demeanor may change from the calm and shy Marta in Knives Out, but still extra excitement to build on for Bond 25th venture.
All the eccentric characters in the Thrombey family and close associates make up the complicated story of Knives Out, and its Johnson who stirs the drink. Writing and directing an original story like this is the exact opposite of his past venture, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. It is obvious that returning to a story where he can have full creative control without fear of backlash did him wonders because this is the best movie he has made up to this point in his career.
Without spoiling anything, there are two moment from Knives Out where Johnson shined. At the memorial service, Marta outside to try and get a breather from the talk within the Thrombey house. However, she doesn’t get a minute because Mr. Blanc is outside, but he’s cast in darkness and shadows. The only thing one sees it the smoke from his cigar swirling in the night air that’s only being illuminated by an outdoor light. As the conversation between Mr. Blanc and Marta progresses, his face gets more and more lit up. Just an awesome piece of directing and cinematography.
Secondly, Johnson incorporates one of Mr. Blanc’s speeches into arguably the most notable piece of set design or furniture in the movie. Near the end of the movie, Mr. Blanc describes how this whole case is like a doughnut, with just that one piece in the center missing. All he needs is that centerpiece. Its genius then to have that circle of knives (being the mode of Harlan Thrombey’s death makes it even more connected) be the symbolic backdrop of the entire story.
It’s the background for how most of the main characters are introduced, its there when the story is resolved. Adding onto that, something Harlan says at the start of the movie directly correlates back to that doughnut of knives and how some people don’t understand what’s real and what’s not. It’s a perfect bookend to Knives Out, wrapping the whole thing together. It’s just a great screenplay. Props to you Mr. Rian Johnson.
Knives Out is the best murder-mystery in recent years, and it’s Johnson’s best film to date. It’s fun, crafty, sleek and eventful. There are very few slow moments, and every performer has a chance to shine with the script they were given. In terms of re-watchability, Knives Out ranks atop the best that 2019 has to offer.
STANKO RATING: A-