Rian Johnson returns with the most tightly-plotted film of the year—a comedic whodunit that is charming, delightful and plays the audience like a piano.
Dir. Rian Johnson
2019 | USA | Mystery/Comedy | 130 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Spanish
NC16 (passed clean) for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material
*Note: PG13 (edited version) was screened theatrically – read more about commercial censorship by distributors
Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans
Plot: A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto); Nom. for Best Original Screenplay (Oscars)
International Sales: Lionsgate
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres (Golden Village Suntec)
Having received plenty of flak for his ‘creative’ meddling of The Last Jedi (2017), I wouldn’t be surprised if Rian Johnson’s toxic critics had already sharpened their knives in anticipation of destroying whatever he chooses to make next.
But Johnson is back with a vengeance with knives out (punny, I know) in what is one of finest movies of the year. Knives Out is the most tightly-plotted film of 2019, a comedic whodunit that is charming, delightful and sees the director playing the audience like a piano.
A family with wealthy assets grapples with the unexpected demise of their patriarch (Christopher Plummer), a man who has written numerous highly-popular mystery novels. Suicide seems to be the clear-cut verdict, but a detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), thinks there is a deeper mystery to be solved.
Craig gives a standout performance in a clever bit of casting against type, drawing a Southern-tinged American accent that is as far removed from his British 007 persona as you can imagine (he does dress the part though, but armed only with a magnifying glass which he tries to put to good use).
“I suspect foul play. But I have eliminated no suspects.”
Ana de Armas, whom I first discovered in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is splendid as a nurse-maid to the deceased, playing her effortlessly in a key role. The other ensemble cast include the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon and Chris Evans.
The best thing about Knives Out is Johnson’s airtight script, which has so many twists and contradictions that even ‘plot holes’ may prove to be significant. He deserves at least an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for his brilliant work, which is utterly engaging despite running a little over two hours.
Although the film is largely inspired by old-school Agatha Christie-type stories, his refashioning of genre tropes into something quite original (such as the opening scenes that comprise mainly of interviews with each of the deceased’s family members, or the ingenious use of flashbacks, or the blindingly good denouement), harkens back to what he had accomplished for his first feature, Brick (2005), also a mystery, as well as his inventive if modest sci-fi head-scratcher, Looper (2012).
Knives Out explores the worst—and best—of human behaviour, but while it is an intricately-structured work, mainstream audiences should be able to lap this up quite easily, a few overworked brain cells notwithstanding.