“Knives Out” is the latest film from director Rian Johnson, the suspect director of the notoriously divisive “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. Considering he is a man of outstanding character, it is strickingly odd that his presence is considered as controversial as it is, but thus is the nature of ‘Star Wars’ fandom. Whether you love him, hate him, blame him, champion him, or anything in between, his newest film is a blank slate and a new chance to create a compelling story for audiences to enjoy. With this film, he’s assembled a deep ensemble cast of talent for a classic “Who done it?” murder mystery!
As is the nature of the mystery genre, you are supposed to go into the theater not knowing things. So, this review might seem a bit bare in comparison to others to avoid spoiling anything. The story has been touted as a unique and clever twist on the classic mystery formula, but does it deliver on that promise? Well, it is definitely a fun film, but I am not sure it is as smart as it thinks it is. That is not to say that it is bad or poorly written in anyway, just not a groundbreaking concept. But that is ok! Not everything needs to be a prophetic revisioning of reality for it to be an entertaining movie.
As I mentioned, “Knives Out” is comprised of an incredibly deep cast of actors who all have moments to let their natural charm shine through. And yet, despite what the marketing department might have you believe, there is a defined lead in this film and it is not Daniel Craig or Chris Evans. No, it is Ana de Armas’s Marta, who amazingly is hardly present in any of the film’s pre-release materials. But do not let her noticeable absence from trailers and posters alarm you. She delivers one of the finest, most enjoyable performances from a lead actress I have seen all year. In fact, her presence in this film solidifies her as a talent to keep an eye on in the future.
The supporting players all are enjoyable, but rather one-note. For the most part, they are each given a scene or two to flex their acting muscles by employing a quirk or oddity. At first, they all seem fun but you soon realize that is the extent of the individuality of most of the characters. Occasionally, maybe someone breaks the mold, but they are all mostly the same underneath that first layer. Daniel Craig gets the most freedom in the film and it is a joy to watch him solve things in an over-the-top southern accent. He is charming and provides most of the film’s humor.
As far as the story goes, I probably should avoid saying too much. However, I will say that Rian Johnson’s strength in writing is when he focuses on the main story. “The Last Jedi” was at its strongest when it focused on Rey and Kylo Ren, and it lacked focus when it strayed into subplots and political messaging. The same seems to be the case with “Knives Out” as the parts that are centered around Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig and the murder are very entertaining and engaging. Unfortunately, he ventures once again into subplots that do not go anywhere and political ideas that are discussed in some of the most surface-level cliché dialogue that almost seemingly is executed under a talking-point checklist. Similar to the addition of the war-profiteering and animal cruelty messages from “The Last Jedi”, Rian adds politics into this film with the nuance and tact of a Twitter comment section. Even if you agree with the message he is trying to push, you can’t help but feel agitated by the simplistic understanding of his arguments. A good message argued poorly does no one any favors.
Considering the poor taste I had in my mouth from his last project, I enjoyed “Knives Out” more than I was prepared to. It is the type of film you should watch with a group of friends in a real casual setting. The mystery is challenging enough to attract your attention but not too challenging that you couldn’t still converse throughout it. You will have a good time watching it, but “Clue” is still the reigning heavyweight champion of the murder-mystery genre.
I give “Knives Out” a decent 8.0 out of 10
Starring: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Jaime Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Runtime: 2 Hours and 10 Minutes