The murder mystery genre has seen a resurgence in the last few years, with a handful of unique and entertaining films gracing the big (and small) screen, breathing new life into the genre. Now, here comes Writer/Director Rian Johnson with an original murder mystery that successfully subverts expectations of the genre and crafts a story that is engaging right through.
Knives Out follows a famed detective, hired to investigate the sudden death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) whose staff and dysfunctional family are all suspects in his untimely death. With Rian Johnson at the helm, his unique visual style and clever storytelling is evident from the moment the film starts, right to when the credits begin to roll. Johnson keeps the story moving by taking turns in the narrative you’d never see coming. The whole time you’re trying to guess who is responsible for for Harlan’s murder, but just as you start to get close, Johnson pulls the rug out from under you with a revelation that changes the entire focus of the story. It’s a perfect blend of quirky and serious storytelling that sets it apart from the others.
He does an incredible job when it comes to keeping the narrative fresh almost the entire way through. There’s no rushing and only a tad of dragging, but for the most part the story is constantly moving and keeps you on your toes. Also, considering the large number of characters, the fact that he managed to build a coherent story where you could keep track of (mostly) everyone is a testament to his writing ability. The twists, turns, shocks and surprises make for a fun and thrilling murder mystery with an updated modern spin on the progression of events to guide you through the two-hour runtime.
The film is visually stunning from beginning to end and almost every shot is framed in a way that draws attention to a number of details in the fore and background that bring the setting of the film to life. It creates a certain ambience and makes you feel as if you’re living inside an Agatha Christie novel for a solid two hours. Everything from the set design to the cinematography crafts this great visual style that is very Rian Johnson-esque and draws you in to each and every scene.
The ensemble cast is littered with big names including Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Ana De Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and more! Of the group, Ana De Armas stands out above the rest for just how strong she is in portraying this character who is quite sensitive, intelligent has a unique reaction to lying that plays very well into the story in both a quirky and serious way. I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in to date as she continues to shine in all her projects.
Of the rest of the cast, it’s hard to pick out anyone who shines within the family as it’s their relationships and interactions that really make each other shine. The back and forth between the large variety of personalities brings a lot of variation to the story and gives each character a trait or quality that makes them interesting. Daniel Craig, being the investigator on the case has the advantage of being an outside, similar to Ana De Armas’ characters. Craig is good in the role and he’s entertaining to watch, but his Southern American accent is quite shocking. Actually, I’d say it’s less shocking and more jarring as it’s not an accent you really expect to hear from Craig. I’d say it would have been better without the accent and removed one jarring element.
As far as the comedy goes, there’s a decent amount of clever, witty jokes spread throughout the film and most of them hit. A couple of them definitely don’t work, but on the whole the comedy works to liven up the film when it gets a little serious and keeps the quirky tone relevant.
In the end, Knives Out is a solid murder mystery that brings a great sense of originality to the story and visual style, courtesy of Rian Johnson. The narrative is constantly moving, rarely slows down and subverts the expectations we seem to have of the genre after so many like-films. It’s a fun ride, entertaining throughout and headlined by a fantastic ensemble cast that delivers ample humour, heart and emotion.