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Knives Out Review: Rian Johnson's Whodunnit Is A Masterful Thrill Ride

Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Jaeden Martell in Knives Out
Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Jaeden Martell in Knives Out

Knives Out leads viewers on a thrilling and wickedly fun ride as the entire ensemble offers breathtaking performances in this whodunnit mystery.

Though Rian Johnson is now perhaps best known for having directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the writer-director cut his teeth in Hollywood on the likes of the neo-noir Brick, comedy caper The Brothers Bloom and sci-fi crime drama Looper. Across all his films, Johnson incorporates story elements that subvert expectations, delivering twists viewers won't see coming. That's all to say, Knives Out fits perfectly within his wheelhouse as a modern murder mystery whodunnit thriller. Written, directed and produced by Johnson, the filmmaker also surrounds himself with an astonishingly talented ensemble cast, who execute his vision with masterful precision. Knives Out leads viewers on a thrilling and wickedly fun ride as the entire ensemble offers breathtaking performances in this whodunnit mystery.

In Knives Out, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired to look into the death of wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who died on the night of his 85th birthday. Assembled at the house is his dysfunctional family, which includes Harlan's oldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson); Harlan's son Walt (Michael Shannon), his wife Donna (Riki Lindhome) and son Jacob (Jaeden Martell); Harlan's daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford); and Harlan's nurse and friend Marta (Ana de Armas). Linda and Richard's son Ransom (Chris Evans) arrives later, just in time for the will reading. Though Detective Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) is quick to rule Harlan's death a suicide, detective Blanc is sure there's more going on at the Thrombey household and he's determined to find the truth.

LaKeith Stanfield, Noah Segan and Daniel Craig in Knives Out
LaKeith Stanfield, Noah Segan and Daniel Craig in Knives Out

Johnson's particular talent of keeping audiences on their toes is on full display with Knives Out, which follows a fairly standard formula for murder mystery movies - in that the viewers are shown little bits about the night of the murder as the mystery is slowly unraveled on screen. The filmmaker uses a deft hand in both setting up and pulling off the twists in Knives Out, laying the foundation for them long before viewers even see them coming. Astute audiences, especially those that revel in solving a murder mystery plot before the characters on screen, will pick up on the clues, but Johnson uses their expectations against them to keep even those viewers guessing. One particular instance where Johnson subverts expectations is in the character of detective Benoit Blanc, portrayed by a wonderfully theatrical Craig with an exaggerated southern drawl, whose entire involvement in the case offers a secondary mystery to Harlan's death. Altogether, Knives Out showcases Johnson's exceptional artistry as a writer and director, with his particularly exceptional skills demonstrated in this whodunnit.

In a film with plenty of colorful characters, Craig's Blanc is an energetic scene-stealer, even as de Armas' Marta is presented more as the film's protagonist. The actress and her more understated performance work well to make Marta the most grounded character in Knives Out, contrasting well against the more campy, over-the-top members of the Thrombey family. Collette's Joni is another scene-stealer, dropping a surprising number of one-liners, as Curtis's Linda is a more imposing woman - though her performance is just as fun. Meanwhile, Shannon brings an underlying menace to Walt that gives the character much-needed depth, and Don Johnson's Richard is the purposefully stereotypical rich white man. Evans shines with a deliciously fun turn as Ransom, showcasing a delightful range in his acting following his departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because of the extent of the cast, some of the other players don't get as much to work with (Stanfield, Langford and Martell in particular), as their characters are largely used to move the plot forward. Still, that's bound to happen with this big of an ensemble, and everyone gets at least one moment to stand out.

Chris Evans in Knives Out

In Knives Out, Rian Johnson sets out to write and direct a murder mystery whodunnit with plenty of twists and turns - and the filmmaker delivers exactly that. With the help of his incredibly talented ensemble cast, Johnson pulls off another phenomenally entertaining entry in his filmography. Further, Knives Out provides one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of 2019, keeping audiences engaged and guessing about the central mystery until the very end, while the cast offers their own uniquely enthralling performances. As such, Knives Out is a must-see, especially for fans of Johnson's work and/or murder mysteries. The film may not require a full IMAX experience, but it's certainly worth seeing with a big audience. And, of course, viewers will want to remain as unspoiled as possible going into this twisty whodunnit.

Every aspect of Knives Out - from Johnson's directing and Craig's southern drawl to the satisfyingly chilling score and intricately detailed set design - comes together to form this lush, captivating murder mystery. Knives Out manages to combine the campy fun of Clue with a new and carefully crafted mystery, plus infuse some commentary about everything from detective stories to modern American politics, all while allowing Johnson's filmmaking voice to shine through. In the end, Knives Out is a wickedly fun masterpiece.

Trailer

Knives Out starts playing in U.S. theaters on Tuesday evening November 26. It is 130 minutes long and rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references and drug material.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5 (Must-See)
Key Release Dates
  • Knives Out (2019) release date: Nov 27, 2019
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