LFF 2019: Knives Out review – murder mystery masterpiece

After gracing us with the best Star Wars movie ever made (yeah, I said it), writer/director Rian Johnson strikes gold once again with Knives Out – an utterly captivating and masterfully constructed whodunit.

Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday. The cause of death appears to be suicide, but experienced private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Photo by Claire Folger – © 2018 MRC II Distribution Company

The Thrombeys are a dysfunctional lot, with plenty of skeletons in their decadent mansion closets – so Blanc sets out to untangle the web of lies and secrets surrounding Harley’s death to uncover the truth of the matter.

Going in, I expected a very subversive take on the classic murder mystery formula. A meta-textual deconstruction of genre tropes, much like what The Cabin in the Woods was to Hollywood horror films.

However, Knives Out is a surprisingly old-fashioned whodunit. The film’s subversive elements have a light comedic touch to them – a gentle, amusing pastiche that comes from a place of reverence.

Blanc’s penchant for flowery language and confused metaphors, combined with the character’s signature and absolutely delightful southern drawl are a guaranteed recipe for hilarity.

Photo by Claire Folger – © 2018 MRC II Distribution Company

Knives Out is a film that pokes fun at is own cheesiness constantly, but also embraces it wholeheartedly.

The film also adds a sharp skewering of the modern American political divide. Issues of inherited wealth, privilege and entitlement are raised and hot button topics like immigration in Trump’s America are openly discussed.

The political undercurrent not only compliments the story and characters well, but adds a layer of contemporary urgency and relevance. That, combined with the light ribbing of whodunit tropes makes the overly familiar seem fresh and exciting again.

courtesy of IMDB

Knives Out also benefits tremendously from its ridiculously stacked cast, who all give excellent performances. Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer do a great job of balancing outright hamminess with genuine pathos.

Chris Evans shows up late to the party, but makes the wait worth it. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen him play a smug, rude asshole. Ana de Armas’ understated performance as the kindhearted medical nurse Marta is an unexpected, but very welcome highlight.

courtesy of IMDB

I’d love to go into more detail, but one of the great joys of a whodunit is knowing as little as possible going in. This is very true of Knives Out.

On the nitpicky side, the minor character of Jacob Thrombley (Jaeden Martell) feels tacked on. Ostensibly a teenage alt-right troll, he barely says or does anything of note. It seems like he’s only there so that other characters can make snide remarks about the alt-right. It’s an underwritten loose end.

Apart from minor quibbles likes that, Knives Out is an absolute delight. It slowly creeps up on you with how great of a movie it truly is. The ending ratchets things up, as all the clues and little seeds of foreshadowing start paying off one after the other.

When the web untangles itself and you see it in its entirety – that’s when Knives Out makes the jump from a really good, enjoyable film to a straight up masterpiece.

Knives Out releases November 27th.

Stanyo Zhelev

Socially awkward geek that loves movies and writing about them. King's College London graduate. Look for on Letterboxd (https://letterboxd.com/cinemastan/) and my personal site (http://thecinemastan.com/)