Knives Out

Rian Johnson (Brick, LooperStar Wars - The Last Jedi)adds a delightful entry to the list of entertaining, ensemble-cast, Hollywood whodunits with this contemporary take on the subgenre. When a world-famous mystery novelist named Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party, his adult children and household staff are called in for questioning by a just-the-facts local detective (Lakeith Stanfield), a wide-eyed police trooper (Noah Segan), and a famous private investigator described as the “last of the gentlemen sleuths,” Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig affecting a hilarious Southern drawl).

Johnson and his cast have a ball working within the loose confines of the murder-mystery genre and sending it up as well. Craig plays it the biggest and broadest, sweeping us up in his exuberance and taking us along for the ride with him. Ana de Armas, playing Thrombey’s caretaker Marta Cabrera, who seems to know the most about what went down and potentially has the most to lose if the truth comes out, plays her character straight with sympathetic sincerity. Craig makes the film a hoot; de Armas enables this lark of a movie to sustain its 130 minute running time. Too bad the rest of the cast doesn’t get as much screen time as these two. By the halfway point of Knives Out, about two-thirds of the main characters all but disappear, and some of the younger and secondary players barely register at all. Johnson harkens back as much (or more) to classic ensemble murder-mystery parodies, like Murder By Death and Clue, as to the films that inspired those send-ups, like And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile, but he neglects the key ingredient that makes each of those movies work so well—the best whodunits involve all of their colorful characters to an essentially equal degree. 

The picture boasts terrific production design by David Crank (The Master, Inherent Vice, Concussion), and Johnson’s usual cinematographer Steve Yedlin provides a pleasantly old-school look. Like the writing and performances, the visuals in Knives Out are self-aware without making any real comment or delivering any kind of fresh take on this always-enjoyable genre.  Thus this picture amounts to little more than a pleasant 130-minute diversion, but in a movie year as abysmally disappointing as 2019, that’s a welcome change of pace.

Twitter Capsule:
Johnson's best film to date is as much a throwback to parodies of classic Hollywood whodunits as to the films that inspired them. Though too self-aware and lightweight to bring anything fresh to the always entertaining subgenre, it's an enjoyable 130 min.

Directed by Rian Johnson
Produced by Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman

Written by Rian Johnson

With: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Keith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Lieberher, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, Marlene Forte, and M. Emmet Walsh

Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
Editing: Bob Ducsay
Music: Nathan Johnson

Runtime: 130 min
Release Date: 27 November 2019
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1