KINVES OUT Review
Agatha Christie is one of, if not the most, seminal authors of the murder mystery genre. From Poirot to Miss Marple, Murder on the Orient Express to Death on the Nile, her works defined a genre. The wealthy family who are all suspects in a mysterious death in their family, is a tried and tired storyline. When something is done to death, you call Rian Johnson.
Knives Out centres around the Thrombey family who, shockingly, suffer a mysterious lose and it’s up to Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) to sift through the quirky suspects to find the killer. Try to avoid the details as it’s better to follow the mystery along with Blanc and let Johnson’s expert writing guide you to its satisfying conclusion.
The undisputed star in an already star-studded line up is Rian Johnson, who doesn’t mimic classic murder mystery stories, but capture their essence and update it for modern audiences. Unlike Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 Murder on the Orient Express, which played it too safe, Knives Out isn’t some fuddy-duddy mystery. It’s more akin to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and its satire on BBC mystery TV shows where half a town’s population will be decimated in one episode. Johnson, as he is known to do, takes the tropes and twists them on their head, much like he did the noir genre with Brick. The result is one of the most entertaining original films of the decade. For those that complain about an overdose of superhero films and remakes, sequels and reboots; stand by your words, and support original works.
Of the actors on screen though, the one having the most fun and making the movie as fresh as it is, is Daniel Craig. After threatening to commit suicide than play Bond again (spoilers, which he is), Craig has learned to love acting again; and it carries to the screen. He’s given the chance to wear a suit and not be brooding over a martini; he stares contemplatively into a fire in a tweed suit and compares the mystery to confectionaries in one of the more absurd moments of the film. He can be very cartoonish, sometimes in distracting ways as the majority of the movie seems so grounded. There are a number of similar directorial choices that may not gel with people, but a swing for the fence is appreciated more than playing it safe and boring.
The rest of the cast are entertaining, although some don’t get a lot of screen time and come in only when the plot needs it. Two characters are defined as “internet, neo-nazi troll” and “SJW, college student”. It’s almost like Johnson has had experience with Twitter recently. Ana de Armas is a star in the making, following her supporting and emotional role in Blade Runner 2049 and her charming performance in this, she is one to watch. She is also where Rian allows himself to comment on modern day American and its race relations. The story of a South American woman working for a wealthy, elitist family is ripe for the picking and makes the film more than just a cool mystery; but one with something to say. Chris Evans, as well, has put down the shield of Captain America, and he’s the farthest from Cap. He delivers some of the film’s funniest and foul-mouthed moments, and desirable outfits in an already slick and suave looking film.
Costume designer, Jenny Eagan, and Production designer, David Crank help to elevate the film’s slick script into a slick looking film. The mansion where the investigation presides is intricately filled, but with a purpose. Belonging to a famous murder mystery author, the house is a museum of trinkets and knick-knacks that connect to the author’s stories which is extra level of detail in an already richly drawn world. Each character is given their own coloured coded wardrobe, reflective of their personality and evoking a period era look that helps it feel like a Christie story.
Knives Out has the cast of a big blockbuster, but doesn’t need capes and explosions to be the purest example of cinema as entertainment. Everyone brings their best and delivers their best, yet Johnson shines with a sharp script and killer directing.