Review: Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out

Rating

Director

Rian Johnson

Screenplay

Rian Johnson

Length

2h 10m

Starring

Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher lummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, Marle Forte

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.

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Soundtrack

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Review

Murder mystery comedies have experienced highs and lows at the box office and with audiences. Knives Out knows its predecessors, but cannot equate them in a disappointing and predictable package.

Daniel Craig takes the lead role as Benoit Blanc, a southern simulacrum of Christie’s foremost detective Hercule Poirot, a renowned detective (Blanc) who’s even referenced as being familiar to the cast on multiple occasions early in the film as the various stories are revealed by the family members of the late mystery writer Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer). A superb cast of actors including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, and Marlene Forte fill the film’s voids with strong characterizations are paper-thin individuals whose motives are entirely too obvious.

With a great murder mystery, a twist is all but required with the first person suspected of a crime rarely having done it; however, as the film progresses, the various motives for murder unwind in a modestly amusing way as this out of touch wealthy family jockeys for position in the inheritance battle while the unsuspecting nurse stands to inherit everything simply for being kind. The political aspects of the film are both pointed and obvious. It’s a film where the conclusion is notably less interesting than the one you can craft in your own head from various clues peppered throughout the screenplay.

Trying very hard to blend comedy and mystery with social commentary is a difficult tight rope to walk. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s detective fiction seems to take inspiration from past greats without understanding entirely why those films succeeded. Knives Out is a shallow, poorly constructed affair. Game Night proved far more adept two years ago at going places the audience wasn’t expecting while delivering copious laughs.

With hints of Christie at the heart of its plotting, and references to noted murder mysteries like Clue, Murder, She Wrote, and Sherlock Holmes, what unspools in Knives Out is a conventional whodunit that thinks it’s far more clever than it actually is. The clues are dropped so obviously that not picking up on them suggests an extreme lack of deductive skills. Further, some of the clues presented are completely ignored or left as loose-ends by the film’s finale.

Knives Out is a film that world class mystery authors like Christie would never have written simply because the trajectory is all too formulaic and the unraveling of the mystery far too circumspect. It’s a film for non-mystery fans looking for something mildly diverting while actual genre fans may feel disappointed at not getting the level of cleverness they expect. It’s a police procedural television show for the masses, a concoction that demands its audience perceive it as being clever and inventive while being anything but.

Review Written

March 30, 2020

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