KNIVES OUT

Oh, Rian Johnson… my man! I have no shame in saying I love this guy. His visual style, his fun ideas, understanding of tone, his interesting stories, excellent casting, his personality, and most of all, his constant subversion of expectations. There’s a very vocal minority of people who absolutely hate Star Wars: Episode VII: The Last Jedi, but I actually quite liked it. It wasn’t fantastic like his other films were, but I felt it kind of turned Star Wars on its head and was actually, ya know, interesting. Not everybody loved that, though, and his handling of the material made people weary, or absolutely avoidant, of any future projects. 
 
Knives Out follows the affluent Trombley family, led by patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a successful mystery novelist and owner of a publishing firm. Tragedy befalls the family, though, as Harlan commits suicide. Is it suicide, though? Famed inspector Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) doesn’t think so. Believing foul play is afoot, Blanc investigates the various family members, as well as Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), to find the true culprit amongst them all. 
 
Billed as a “Rian Johnson Whodunnit”, the film immediately starts off with Harlan’s death, and Blanc and his detective are on the case. The first act consists of them interviewing Harlan’s family and Marta, where we’re treated to Rashomon-esque recants from different character points of views, giving more information, and twisting the story even further. A murder mystery movie, especially a whodunnit, relies on the audience playing along with the movie. The detective is just a surrogate investigator for yourself, and Johnson expertly plants the clues to keep you guessing throughout. You have to strike that happy medium with the genre: you can’t make the clues too obvious, or else the audience will figure it out too early, greatly diminishing the suspense. On the other hand, you get something like The Snowman, where absolutely nothing makes sense and when the killer is revealed, you’re left asking, “Wait… who is that again?” Johnson achieves that balance here, even if the final resolution does get a tiny bit convoluted. It still makes sense, but it’s your typical detective exposition dump that occurs at the end of the movie, which I was hoping Johnson would avoid. 
 
Other than that, in typical Rian Johnson fashion, there’s a lot of subversion of expectations. Subverting expectations themselves doesn’t equate to quality, but it’s really how they’re executed and serve the larger story. You expect twists in a movie like this, but there’s such a massive one at the beginning of the second act that changes the whole context of the story. Then there’s another twist in the story. And another, and it just keeps going. However, it all makes sense, and makes for a very exciting and emotionally hefty narrative. This isn’t really about the murder investigation, but about Marta and her relationship with the Trombley family. As Harlan’s nurse, Marta grew very close to him, and thus, the rest of them treat her like family. That’s only with their words, though, as their actions say otherwise. Marta is an immigrant, and there’s a hilarious running joke with different characters commenting on her being from Ecuador, Brazil, and other random South American countries. It really just shows how little they care about her, and as the film goes on, the family starts showing their true colors. This makes for a very satisfying ending, and one of the best final shots I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not a super stylish shot, but it’s about what it represents, but Johnson clearly knows when to be stylish and when not to be. It’s a very visual appealing movie, with wonderful production design 
 
There’s a surprising amount of political overtones in this, which I didn’t mind as it’s well integrated and also basically the whole point of the movie. It’s an exploration into the disconnect between the super wealthy and the rest of us. Marta comments at one time how the family pays her $15 an hour, which is disgusting to think about, considering how much money they have. Aside from Marta, Harlan, and Blanc, everybody shows their greed and self-centeredness. It’s a genuinely emotional story with a strong core and message to it, but it’s also hilarious. The dialogue was sharp, while also providing some fun visual gags. The story gives most of the actors a chance to flex their range, as they drop their benevolent façade at the drop of a hat when things don’t go their way. It was pleasant to have Chris Evans play a role that was the complete opposite of Captain America, where he’s a miserable asshole. Every member of the family is perfectly cast and they all knock it out of the park, even Jaeden Martell, who has very little lines, but they’re all golden. One part of the political aspect is him being an alt-right internet troll, parroting terms like “snowflake” and “anchor baby” in the most visciously condescending way. Rian doesn’t just pick one side, though, as he goes after liberal arts students with useless degrees with Katherine Langford’s character. Everybody in this family just feels so disconnected. 
 
The standouts are Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. Marta is the main character of the film and de Armas more than carries the weight of the story on her shoulders. The family is actually absent for much of the second act, but at that point, there’s a lot more to the story than just them. Other characters constantly comment on how good of a heart she has (maybe a bit too much), and she shows it in her actions and line delivery. Johnson seems to love his running gags, as there’s one where if Marta lies, she literally gets sick and vomits. Vomiting is gross out humor, but it’s used as a funny character trait that actually pays off in a nice way. Now, Daniel Craig. Simply put, this man needs to do more comedy. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Logan Lucky, but he was a highlight in that and is here too. His name may be French, but he speaks in a comically Southern, Foghorn Leghorn-esque accent. It’s a bit odd to hear him speaking with that accent at first, but I warmed up to it and it just made his character that much more entertaining, especially with his silly monologues.
 
Knives Out is essentially Rian Johnson’s version of an Agatha Christie novel, down to a Hercule Poirot type of investigator, but just like he did with Star Wars, he completely turns the genre on its head, making this a murder mystery like no other. If you were ever on the fence, or just completely turned off, by Rian Johnson after The Last Jedi, the guy has a lot more to offer when he does his own original work. You’re always going to get something fun, interesting, stylish, and surprising. Sounds like a great time to me. 
 
9/10 
 

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