Movie Review | Knives Out
Movie summary: A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family. (IMDb)
From the moment the first trailer for Knives Out dropped I knew I had to see this movie. Just from small clips told out of order (reflecting the structure of the full movie to an extent) I could tell that I would love it even ignoring the incredible cast put together by Rian Johnson. It looked intelligent and a lot of fun, which it turned out to be.
The initial set-up is Christopher Plummer's character, Harlan, dying from what looks to be suicide, although all of his children have potential motives for murder. Daniel Craig's private detective, Benoit Blanc, is hired to investigate Harlan's death and discover if he did kill himself or if it was murder. In other words, a very traditional whodunnit set-up.
While this accurately describes the plot, it also completely glosses over the narrative themes of white privilege and immigration that the movie is really about. This isn't to dismiss the mystery, but finding out what really happened with Harlan's death is merely the route the story takes to get these points across - although I can't go into too much detail without thoroughly spoiling the movie, which is very easy to do!
Let me just say that both the alt-right and those on the left who are 'woke' when it suits them both get targeted, the former much more than the latter and deservedly so. I imagine there will be a lot of MAGA types who will be annoyed at having their hypocrisy and racism so brilliantly exposed by a dedicated, caring immigrant.
What I can say more clearly is that, despite the glittering cast assembled, Ana de Armas' Marta is the heart and soul of the movie. She's as close as there is to a lead performance here and we spend almost the entire film with her present, seeing how she's reacting to the various twists and turns that unfold as Blanc's investigation chases down leads.
I already liked De Armas from Blade Runner 2049, where she gave another great performance as Joi, but she really proves how good an actress she is here. Having to deal with Harlan's family treat her like an underling because she's an immigrant despite claiming she is part of the family is just one way this movie shows how hypocritical wealthy white people can be - they know what they should say, they just never practice what they preach.
The next biggest role belongs to Craig, who is brilliant in what could've been an overly-comedic role, but - much like Johnson's direction - he expertly walks that line between drama and comedy. Craig had already proven himself capable of such a performance in the great Logan Lucky and, like De Armas, takes things to another level here.
Rumour has it that Johnson and Craig have already agreed to make another movie with Benoit Blanc on another case if Knives Out is successful and it looks like good news with how well this movie has been received so far. Craig seems to be enjoying himself immensely throughout and it's very easy to see why he'd prefer to revisit Benoit Blanc than ever play Bond again after No Time to Die is done.
Rounding out what I consider to be the last of a core trio in this ensemble piece is Chris Evans as Ransom. I think it's a great move by Evans to play someone who is as much of a prick as Ransom straight after finishing playing Steve Rogers and it seems like Evans is enjoying this movie just as much as Craig is. Evans is so good in the role that it may take some Marvel fans a while to adjust seeing him this way - the guy's got impressive range.
I don't want to ignore the rest of the excellent cast, with Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield and more all getting their moments to shine. Much like Craig and Evans, they all seem to be having the time of their lives playing these characters and that enthusiasm comes across - they so clearly love the roles they're playing that you do take all of them seriously, even when things aren't serious at all.
Just to note why I'm not including Ana de Armas in the 'enjoying themselves' praise: her character isn't having fun. Marta is shocked by Harlan's death and, having to deal with Blanc investigating why it happened while Harlan's two-faced family push and pull her around, spends almost the entire movie in a state of extreme anxiety. It's a wonderful performance and all the better for not coming across as enthusiastic as other members of the cast.
However, the true star here is Rian Johnson, not just for making yet another great-looking movie after the most gorgeous Star Wars movie ever (despite my disappointment with the story there), but for writing and bringing to life a script that twists and turns without ever getting too convoluted or too full of itself - it perfectly walks the line between drama and comedy, making it look so easy that you start to wonder why more movies like this aren't being made.
Knives Out is one of the best movies I've seen in 2019, racing through the story yet never going too fast for the audience to follow what is going on - or at least what the movie wants you to think is going on. There's an incredible cast at the top of their games, following supremely confident direction from Rian Johnson that you'll wonder if they're actually having more fun than you.
Why a 10/10? I didn't write as much as I could have about the script in the main section of the review because I wanted to reserve special praise for it here. There are at least two 'bad' versions of Knives Out that could've been made: too much comedy trivialising events, including Marta's suffering; or taking things too seriously, which would've made at least Craig's character seem wholly inappropriate.
Then again, it isn't just about the script - a lesser director could've taken the exact same material and made a worse version of this movie, but Johnson managed to perfectly balance out the humour and the drama so that audiences could remain invested while still laughing from time to time. It sounds simple, but it really, really isn't and Johnson deserves all the praise in the world for this.
To sum it up, I have reviewed movies where I've said that there hasn't been a weak point and that the end product was the best it could be, but not given the movie a 10/10 because the movie did not truly excel either. Knives Out is genuinely an excellent movie that required perfection involved to achieve this end result and does so with style.