Hailed as the dark horse movie of the year by critics and audience alike, Knives Out is a Whodunnit written and directed by Star Wars the Last Jedi and Looper director Rian Johnson in lieu of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The film centres around the death of acclaimed murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s apparent suicide. A seemingly open-shut case is pushed open by the illustrious Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig, diving into the circumstances of familial dispute and a comedy of errors. The film also stars Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaimee Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer among many others.
I was almost expecting to be pleasantly surprised by this film. I was not, perhaps, expecting to see arguably the best film of this year. Knives Out is a wacky, intelligent, quirky addition to a legendary sub-genre. Rian Johnson, who one could argue had something to atone for (TLJ was, in his defence a very good film, just not a good Star Wars film), has written a brilliant script that oozes intelligence and wackiness (you’re gonna be reading that word a lot in the coming minutes). It’s got a very unique, sense of humour, a lot of really subtle gaffes and pot-shots that you’ll only get as a reward for paying closer attention. Not a hard thing to do with an intricate plot and a pace, a rhythm almost, that’s equally unique and exciting. From a conceptual point of view it’s a deeply intelligent film. I obviously don’t want to give too much away, but the twists and turns are deeply intriguing, and the way it all falls into place at the end is a little bit genius. Characters, which I’ll go into more detail about in a minute, are hilarious and wonderfully appropriate to the situation. In terms of syntax, there’s a lot of cleverness about the way the story moves forward, a lot of subtle inconsistencies and intriguing decisions which add up to that sense of intrigue. There’s something very intrinsically weird about the film, but a welcome kind of weird. Johnson’s done this brilliant dance of conforming to a genre-based formula and subverting that formula at the same time, revealing more than you expect earlier than you expected it, but maintaining that sense of incompleteness. That tone is one of the most impressive things, the way you’re just never convinced and you can’t put your finger on why.
The characters, and the circumstance to a large extent, are an homage to exactly the kind of story Johnson was trying to mimic and then make modern. Christopher Plummer plays the unfortunate victim, as well as the wealthy father of a very ambitious, very greedy, and very entitled family, all of whom are guilty of the classic waiting-on-the-inheritance-money trope that we so often see in this kind of story. A not so self-made millionaire, the head of his father’s publishing company, a Gwenyth Paltrow-esque lifestyle manager, as well as a pair of SJW and right wing troll for cousins, and a trust-fund good for nothing makes for a wildly entertaining living room as a stage for the main conflicts of the film. Ana de Armas compliments as Harlan’s nurse/emotional support, the effective main character of the film, as well as a strikingly interesting concept: a character in a whodunit who physically cannot lie. How’s that for fascinating.
It’s rounded off, of course, by the pivot of the whole thing, the donut’s hole if you will (anyone who’s seen the film will get that) by Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc. The more I think about it, the more I realise just how brilliant Craig is in this film. Blanc is very obviously based on a Poirot/Columbo blueprint, somewhat aloof yet extremely perceptive. Craig has also been made to put on a southern accent for this film, which lands in every way possible. It’s very self-aware, the way they use Craig’s accent for comedy. The accent itself is fine, it’s more the fact that it’s Craig of all people doing it that leaves you in splits every time he opens his mouth (a moment of singing might’ve actually killed me). Craig’s performance, therefore, considering the intention of adding to the wackiness and somewhat surreal-ness of the whole thing, is delightful, as well as the respective performances of everyone else in the cast. Chris Evans is somewhat miscast, but makes as much as he can with that circumstance and ultimately delivers a strong performance. A special mention must go to Ana de Armas, who, had she not been every bit as convincing as earnest and convincing as she was, the film would not have held water.
I really loved this movie. The buzz around it told me what to expect, but I don’t think even high expectations really prepared me for just how much I would enjoy it. Knives Out is just so full of character, a somewhat odd situation to be in when talking about the mother of all formula genres. Rian Johnson has reminded us all what a first-rate filmmaker he is, in a unique, intelligent, hilarious, and visually beautiful (didn’t get a chance to talk about that, there’s a lot of very grand setting and hard colours that’re very easy on the eye). It’s a success he deserves very much, after a disingenuous and frankly barbaric response from the Star Wars fandom after TLJ. All in all, Knives Out is a wildly entertaining, delightfully wacky, and beautifully crafted contender for my favourite film of the year.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 89/100 Aryamaan’s Score –