Knives Out sports some memorable performances that work as a collective, but the film fails to capture the audiences attention throughout its lengthy running time that is far from the twists and turns promised in the trailers. It's the first whodunit that doesn't really seem to care about who did it.
Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson returns to the big screen with his latest murder-mystery whodunit thriller Knives Out, featuring an impressive ensemble cast, including Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield and Chris Evans. Knives Out works because of its collective cast that’s continuously engaging, elevating the script to sharp and witty tendencies that make up for the film’s lacking punch and predictable unraveling.
Knives Out follows the death of successful novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). This initiates the return of his blood-thirsty family to collect on Harlan’s riches that are now left in his will, which is sealed in an envelop and to be read by the lawyer after the funeral and memorial.
Each one of Harlan’s relatives is just as detestable as the last, which includes the bulk of the star-studded cast playing various family members, including sons, daughters, grandsons, nieces and nephews.
The only representation of decency rests with Harlan’s personal caregiver Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas)
Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and private investigator Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) are the key outsiders tasked with weeding through the events of the past few days leading up to the death, to determine if it was truly a suicide or if there was foul play involved leading to his untimely demise.
Director Rian Johnson attempts to cuts deep with his The Last Jedi follow-up, a film that was met with some nasty reactions by critics and audiences alike. It is no coincidence that Johnson’s latest is a topical piece of commentary about the present day 2019 climate. He’s clearly responding to the trolls and the haters in a way that is certainly funny and modern.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t care for The Last Jedi, yet I never once thought about holding Johnson hostage for his sins against the Star Wars world. I’ve always been a mild Star Wars fan at best and just didn’t care for his vision.
That being said, I loved Looper and have enjoyed most of his films, which makes my reaction to Knives Out kind of shocking.
Knives Out has all of the makings for a whodunit instant classic, yet it settles on an overly-explained premise that leaves not much up for discovery. The film reveals the true events almost instantly, flipping what you thought the movie was going to be upside down on its own head, which might be the point as Johnson diverts expectations, but the end result isn’t nearly as rewarding as one might think.
As he unravels the story and starts tying together all of the colorful characters, Johnson loses his momentum and the audience. The film quickly becomes predictable and almost telegraphed as character reveals become glaringly obvious and the focus of the story becomes less relevant, while Daniel Craig‘s scene-chewing almost becomes the sole means of enjoyment.
I shift gears into the performances, because I’d rather not spoil what little there is to spoil.
Daniel Craig‘s Beniot Blanc is show-stealing private eye that knows a thing or two about family turmoil and getting to the bottom of the truth. Watching him interact with the stacked cast that Johnson has managed to assemble is worth the price of admission alone. Craig has a certain likability to him that makes up for the film’s weaker moments.
The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as memorable unless they are all sharing the screen together. Watching Chris Evans bounce off of Michael Shannon or Jamie Lee Curtis is acting school 101. Toni Collette and Don Johnson also provide the much-needed jabs to keep the hate-fuel going.
Ana de Armas plays the odd one out as the only decent character thrown in the middle of one of the worst family’s of all-time. Again, there’s no doubt that Johnson staged this perfectly as a reaction to 2019 and the negative world that we live in, filled with hate, racism, sexism and pure evil.
I personally don’t think the film works nearly as much as it thinks it does, but maybe that’s because I try to focus more on the good and not so much on the bad.
Or maybe it’s because Johnson’s script tries to take twists and turns, but eventually arrives at the same predictable conclusion that one might think and for that I am terribly disappointed.
Knives Out isn’t a surprising piece of whodunit cinema and instead another murder-mystery that can be solved in minutes if you’re halfway paying attention to what he is presenting you. It’s a shame too, because most of the cast is stellar and yet there’s not really much to show for it.
I’m glad that Johnson was able to make something uniquely his own, but I worry that his storytelling methods are getting sidetracked for social commentary that’s more worried with shock and awe than an actual good story.