From skilled and controversial director Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a black comedy mystery film that follows an affluent and dysfunctional family, and specifically the former caretaker for the family patriarch, after the patriarch’s death at a family gathering leads a master detective to investigate. As a modern whodunit, we’re given clues throughout and minor reveals. Yet the brilliance of Knives Out, as in all well-made whodunits, is that in giving such clues or reveals, we’re still left in anticipation, still far from knowing who actually committed the murder and in what way.
Watch It: If you want to see a hilarious mystery film with fast-paced dialogue, superb acting, acute direction, and a thrilling finish.
Skip It: If you don’t have a taste for the mystery/whodunit genre, and/or struggle with films that move along at a brisk pace.
Knives Out still has me ruminating on what all transpired, from beginning to end. As both director and writer, Johnson has crafted a complex web of words, characters, relevant themes, humor, sayings, things not said, images on screen and images left off screen to leave you, pardon the cliche, puzzled. Knives Out, in short, works for me as easily one of the best films of the year.
Johnson also had the pleasure of orchestrating an ensemble cast that works humorously beautiful. Not once did I sense among so many actors that “this one actor always left me distracted.” Both young and old, everyone on screen moves ironically with both rhythm and chaos from start to finish. At the center of the film are Daniel Craig, playing Detective Benoit Blanc, called on to investigate the murder, and Ana de Armas, playing Marta Cabrera as the late patriarch’s former caretaker.
Though Craig may deliver what some see as a cartoonish portrayal of his detective, this in no way is distracting or off-putting. Some have also vouched for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal. I don’t see such praise warranted, especially when considering other more noteworthy performances that deserve that praise this year. But both Craig (giving his character’s Southern drawl) and de Armas as a stressed and sympathetic piece of the puzzle arguably carry the weight of this spectacular mystery.
The estate where the murder occurs also competes for its place as a character as well. Every comical shot that Johnson makes of a wooden carving, a painting, and a throne of knives that looks like the Iron Throne itself from Game of Thrones, all yield a sense of disturbance, secrecy, grandeur, and chaos. It attests to those working on the set design that they have crafted a setting that is to be enjoyed as one of the best of the year.
Knives Out gets a big recommendation from me, as it has been from many. Though it seems “split on its chances” of getting a Best Picture nod among awards pundits, perhaps due to its somewhat lightweight delivery, Rian Johnson has proven himself as one of the premier directors of the decade, regardless of the messages one may enjoy or detest in his films, Looper, The Last Jedi, and now Knives Out, the best mystery of the year.
Zimm Score: 9/10