Movie Review: “Knives Out”

In an unusual turn of events, I was able to see Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” more than once prior to release.  There first time through, I was, for a time, slightly disappointed.  That disappointment was not in evidence during the second screening.

Whether that initial fault was mine or the marketing’s, seeing trailers for “Knives Out,” I believed I was going to be watching a murder mystery where Daniel Craig’s detective, Benoit Blanc, sat there, interviewed the large group of family members, ran around the mansion, and solved the crime. Something Poirot or Holmes style, if you will. Lakeith Stanfield’s Police Lieutenant would be there as the foil, or maybe the Lieutenant’s underling, Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), would fill that role.

Sure, we would learn about the deceased, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and his kids, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Walt (Michael Shannon). We would, to my mind, learn about their families including Richard (Don Johnson), Ransom (Chris Evans), Joni (Toni Collette), Jacob (Jaeden Martell), Donna (Riki Lindhome), and Meg (Katherine Langford). The people who worked at the mansion, Marta (Ana de Armas) and Fran (Edi Paterson), would also be involved.

This isn’t quite what “Knives Out” offers. This is in no way a straight-up murder mystery. Anything I say that goes much more deeply than that will, potentially, spoil the film, and that would be a mistake. You see, that first time I saw it, once I got past the fact that this wasn’t telling the sort of story I thought it would be telling, I enjoyed it.  The second time I saw it, I absolutely loved it.

Here is what “Knives Out” really is: Rian Johnson directing an incredible cast, virtually all of whom are hamming it up in order to get laughs.  Marta, who, by virtue of her becoming Blanc’s sidekick, is one of the most important character’s in the film and not quite as hammy as everyone else, but she still works and does so beautifully.

Even the score for the film, which is from Nathan Johnson, is appropriately over the top. It is classic whodunit murder mystery music writ-large. It is funny and engrossing and sets the mood with perfection. The same is true of the set, this ridiculously over the top mansion where Harlan has included bits and pieces of his various books.  The feel further extends to the costumes, which are from Jenny Eagan. Everyone has a style, everyone has a little bit extra to them in their costumes… everyone except, maybe, Marta. She is the average person from whom we see the world.

Here’s the important thing with that — everyone in the movie excels in their role. Craig is the best the film has to offer, but absolutely ever actor in every part, big or small, does a wonderful job bringing these people to life. Ana de Armas doesn’t stand out for a really good portrayal, because they’re all really good.

That aside, it is predictable that the movie isn’t exactly what is advertised.  Johnson, for better or worse, likes to turn everything on its ear, and he does so here with aplomb.  It is a brilliant, wonderful, loving take on the whodunit genre.  The moments that work are indeed the ones at the beginning and end, when the film hews most closely to a classic sort of interrogation/reveal aesthetic, but throughout there is brilliance, including a car chase that may be one for the ages.

I love “Knives Out.”  The first time I saw it, I thought I loved the movie I wanted it to be more, but the second time through, with my expectations altered, I loved it for what it was.  The movie that is presented is deft and funny and smart. It may have some lulls here and there, but there are more than enough lolz to make up for them. There is simply no way to leave the film without a massive smile on one’s face and a prayer in your heart that we will see the return of Benoit Blanc.  And until that happens, we’re all just going to have to go back and see this movie over and over again.

four and a half stars

photo credit:  Lionsgate

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