Knives Out - LFF 2019
Directed by Rian Johnson
I’m the first to admit that I can be a grump when it comes to the hype train ahead of certain movies. There is an almost imminent outpouring of adoration for many films the second a poster or trailer drops and I find it very tedious. The film hasn’t even had its world premiere yet but it already has a die hard fan base who have created memes and GIFs aplenty, doing their very best to wear me down and cause me, ironically, to hate a film I have not even seen. Knives Out was such an experience. So imagine my absolute fucking delight to sit down grudgingly, only to have the biggest smile on my face two hours later after a real ‘time of my life’ cinematic journey.
Forget what you think you know about Knives Out. It’s been mismarketed as a Poirot-style whodunnit ensemble piece. Whilst Daniel Craig’s Kentucky-fried private detective Benoit Blanc might have a little of the Belgian’s grey cells, he’s most certainly his own man. Hired by a mystery figure to investigate the apparent suicide of wealthy crime-novelist Harlan Thrombey (Chrstopher Plummer), Blanc discovers that any one of Harlan’s eccentric family members could have had a hand in his death. As the star-studded cast are each given their introductions (Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans etc.), we settle in for a real-life game of Cluedo. But the board is suddenly flipped and we find the pieces scattered, allowing Ana de Armas to steal the show as Harlan’s personal nurse, Marta.
Ana de Armas, I confess, was a relatively unknown entity for me aside from her role as Joi in Blade Runner 2049. For the most part she and Craig do all the heavy lifting in this film. They are simply incredible together (which bodes well for their upcoming collaboration in No Time To Die). The supporting cast of star names never feel like they are just there to make up the numbers. They almost HAD to be star names in order for the whole piece to work. It works so well because at its heart there is a story which is saying much more about present-day America than might first be apparent. It’s no coincidence that the wealthy, white family are waiting with bated breath to find out who will inherit what, while their Ecuadorian/Uruguayan/Guatemalan/Brazilian nurse is an after-thought.
As the caper spills out across the Thrombey estate and into the forests, roads and buildings surrounding it, the twist and turns start coming thick and fast. Now although some will see certain plot devices begin to show their cards before their great moment of reveal, they are no less impactful. It’s to the films credit that even if you aren’t surprised by some of the directions the story goes in, you’ll take great satisfaction in relishing the way the moments are executed. The dialogue practically crackles and fizzes with unspoken insinuations and simmering resentments, all the while the performances are at the highest level, elevating the script, the direction and the entire film.
What’s absolutely incredible about Knives Out is that it strikes the perfect balance and tone between the traditional dramatic Agatha Christie-style mystery and an odd-ball comedy. Often in crime capers such as this, the comic moments are so poor and lazy, with jokes falling far from their mark and sticking out like the grotesque and clumsy attempts at levity that they are. Not here. I suspect that almost every line in Rian Johnson’s script that was written with the intention to provoke laughter, will do exactly that. It’s witty, smart, quick and bonkers in all the right ways. From the ridiculously outlandish approach to familial relations across the Thrombey household to the bombastically gentle approach to sleuthing from Blanc, the laughter is welcome at every turn. It supplements the plot, never threatening to overpower it only to embellish it.
The locations and cinematography are first-rate. The exuberantly wealthy Thrombey household is practically dripping with tiny objets d’arts to remind us of their patriarch’s infamy in the murder-mystery sphere. Every scene pops with colour, positioning and focus in a way that puts the audience in the shoes of Blanc himself, pouring over every detail to extract clues. The great centre-piece of it all, of course, being the circle of blades which serves as the backdrop to introduce us to each member of the family and potential culprit.
This is definitely the most fun I have had in a cinema in 2019. I loved it, the audience I was with loved it and most telling of all, the cast clearly loved making it. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Formula One racetrack being taken over by bumper cars in a race to the finish line. Heart in your mouth moments are all the more enjoyable because of the great time you’re having along the way. The final shot of the film is insanely satisfying given what we have learnt over the course of two hours. The symbolism of a certain ceramic item, the positioning of the characters and the song choice that takes us into the credits say so much. Rian Johnson does it again! He’s unfalteringly a filmmaker who exceeds expectations every time he gets behind the camera. So here’s hoping next time the hype train pulls in for him I have no hesitation in jumping aboard. Because one thing’s for sure, it’ll be one hell of a journey.