Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer
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…not as sharp as it could have been, but Knives Out is nonetheless an engaging romp worth taking a stab at.
We don’t get many whodunnits at the cinema these days, the genre seems to have fallen out of favour. Perhaps the rather stagey, old fashioned nature of the stories means that they rarely work in a modern context and tend to fare better in period pieces like Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017). Or maybe television has taken over as a place for these tales to play out in a more longform context. Either way, after the financially successful, audience dividing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson has his sights set on a smaller target with the overcooked but fun whodunnit, Knives Out.
Knives Out focuses on the death of successful crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). The outside appearance of the death would suggest it’s suicide, but closer examination reveals this is likely a case of [ominious musical sting] murder. There are a shitload of suspects, too. The entire Thrombey clan are greedy, vain avatars of entitlement portrayed with delightful relish by the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and a playing-against-type Chris Evans. Every single character has a motive to kill, so it’s up to efficient Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and southern accented uber genius Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve the mystery, with the help of doe-eyed caretaker, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armes).
Knives Out manages to entertain for most of the duration. At 130 minutes it’s a tad too long for the story it’s telling, and the second act is a bit of a slog (a recurring problem in Johnson’s work, looking at you The Last Jedi), however, the whole affair begins and ends beautifully, and showcases some wonderful performances. Christopher Plummer does his best work in years, Chris Evans is a camp delight as the bitchy, acerbic Ransom and Daniel Craig is clearly having a hoot with his Foghorn Leghorn accent and over-the-top mannerisms. Johnson’s direction is, yet again, very solid, taking full advantage of the grand Thrombey manner, although, yet again, his writing feels a little awkward. A bunch of references to “alt-right trolls” and “SJW university” feel dated today and will likely just read as cringe-worthy or simply confusing in six months’ time.
Still, Knives Out is here to give you a good time with a slightly subversive whodunnit mystery and it absolutely succeeds in that goal. Perhaps it’s not as sharp as it could have been, but Knives Out is nonetheless an engaging romp worth taking a stab at.