Knives Out Movie Review
The screening I attended for Knives Out was preceded by a plea from director Rian Johnson to not spoil the whodunit in his whodunit, an odd request in hindsight given that neither the mystery nor the ultimate culprit are all that surprising. Knives Out is a creative, craftily sculpted piece of entertainment, but its slight mystery keeps it from being anything more than a passing fancy.
Johnson reveals the cause of the death—and the circumstances leading up to it—for Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) early on, an interesting maneuver for what is, essentially, a murder mystery. This decision, upon which the entire plot revolves, forces Knives Out to become less a murder mystery than a mystery as to how Johnson is going to maintain momentum for over two hours, let alone have enough story to fill the time.
Amazingly, Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) succeeds, cultivating a twisty turny plot that allows his star-studded cast (Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, and Ana de Armas) to play eccentric adversaries where no one is truly innocent, even if most aren’t guilty for the crime at hand.
De Armas (future Bond girl) makes for an enthralling protagonist, with Craig reveling in a role that allows him to be the eccentric actor he is arguably best at (vs. James Bond, whom is best known for). Johnson makes less use of his other stars than you’d expect, many of the other characters falling by the wayside as the story progresses.
Despite Johnson’s upfront plea, the writer/director seems much more fascinated by the journey than the destination, a fascination that results in plenty of entertainment value even if the sum is less than its parts. The movie is well-written, the suspects many, the dialogue witty and humorous, but the whodunit is ultimately somewhat predictable and not particularly satisfying. Of all the characters who could have done it, Johnson settles on the least interesting and most obvious choice, and his decision to make the detective a secondary character doesn’t help matters either.
Despite its shortcomings, there is a lot to like about Knives Out—it’s fun, it’s fast, and everyone involved clearly had a blast. It’s just a shame Johnson didn’t apply this formula to a slightly sharper mystery.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.