Do you hate watching slow-burning murder mystery films that take their sweet time to their payoff that usually never ends in a satisfying manner? Director Rian Johnson probably has seen too many of those back in the 80s and 90s, and actually thought of a great solution when making his own black comedy murder mystery film and possible Clue tribute Knives Out.
Just get the crux of it out halfway in the film and then follow it up with even more mysteries that unfold from the supposed reveal. Don’t act too shocked if this caper ends up being in a lot of people’s Best of 2019 list.
Get A Clue
The premise is such: the patriarch of the Thrombey family (Christopher Plummer), a man who made his millions making murder mystery stories, ends up dead, so it’s up to law enforcement (led by Lakeith Stanfield’s Detective Lieutenant Elliot) and detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to find out who killed him and why. Adding to the complications are the family members, the caretaker Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), and the underlying notion that not all is well within the Thrombey family and extended members.
To say more would be veering into spoiler territory because these films rely on its many plot twists and revelations. Is it worth sticking around for? Yes, it is, but it’s also the performances of its A-list ensemble that elevates this beyond its contemporary peers.
Everyone from Jamie Lee Curtis’ Linda Drysdale to Michael Shannon’s Walt Thrombey is bringing their A-game acting to portraying their seemingly-loving personas with malicious intents, whether it’s on-the-nose or hidden. Personally, the standouts are Daniel Craig’s Southern-style detective Blanc, Chris Evan’s petulant rebel Ransom, and Ana’s naive and too-nice-for-her-own-good Marta.
From start to finish, you are enamoured by Blanc’s accent, mannerisms, his code of justice, and his methodology. You wonder if he’s going to do the right thing or keep to the law, but you just cannot take your eyes off of him.
I’d be very disappointed in humanity if he doesn’t get at least an Oscar or Academy nomination for his transformative role here.
Then again, this is the guy who nailed it as an idiot savant hick in Lucky Logan, so it’s no surprise he blows this new role out of the water.
It’s not surprising to see Chris Evans plays his roles authentically, but it’s been a while to see him as a charismatic douche like in his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World days. You can definitely see where his character Ransom comes from and why he’s like that through the course of the plot, but at the end of the day, he’s also a hoot to watch as the Thrombey family’s black sheep.
On the other end of the spectrum is Marta, who acts as the show’s other main lead and moral centre. She brings out the best and worst of the not-quite-right Thrombey family through no fault of her own.
Murder He Wrote
The best kinds of murder-mystery films will keep you guessing until the very end. Even if you find out what happened, the best ones are so well-crafted that you have to watch it, again and again, to pick up the nuances and telltale signs on how the mystery was set up in the first place.
Knives Out not only reveals its hand after the first 40 minutes or so for a sleight of hand but subverts its audience’s expectations with a couple of trump cards they’ve hidden in plain sight for the ultimate “gotcha” moment. My only gripes are that some characters are just there as one-note punchlines, like a certain kid on a handphone, and that the film needed more claustrophobic “family time gathering” moments to balance out the comedy more.
But beyond that, the fact that I’m making a lot of vague criticisms here proves that you need to head into this film without any prior knowledge. Knives Out is the best kind of murder mystery that requires you to go in blind for the full sublime experience.
No hyperbole here; this one’s at sharp as they come.