Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Secrecy around films is a difficult status to maintain in this current era of accessibility. Spoilers lurk around every turn on the internet, as well as in day to day chit-chat. A first-time viewing is a special experience that one can never replicate, especially regarding stories structured around a surprising plot twist. For some films, the less you know going into the screening, the better. Knives Out is one such film, as it provides a colorful collection of characters for an entertaining murder mystery.
The story is set at the residence of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a wealthy novelist who turns up dead soon after celebrating his 85th birthday. Called to the scene to investigate are Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield). The pair interview Thrombey’s person
al nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), as well as his visiting family members in an attempt to gain insight into what took place the night of his demise. These family members include his children, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Walt (Michael Shannon), his children in law, Joni (Toni Collette), Richard (Don Johnson), and Donna (Riki Lindhome), and his grandchildren, Ransom (Chris Evans), Meg, (Katherine Langford), and Jacob (Jaeden Martell). Foul play is suspected and everyone is a suspect.
The main strength of Knives Out is the plot which is cleverly crafted by writer/director Rian Johnson. The format of the typical murder mystery is a time-tested process that has been firmly established over the years in books and film, but Johnson plays with this structure to create a story with countless twists and turns to keep the audience on their toes until the end. The screenplay gets credit for its sharp dialogue and the original route it takes, but suffers from over-ambition during the back half where the plot becomes convoluted. In a genre where the final reveal is everything, the climax underwhelms and is unable to maintain the bar established during the introductory scenes.
The performances are entertaining, but none of the characters are given the necessary depth for the actors to work with. The detail provided to the players in this mystery is akin to the description cards used in a game of Clue. Daniel Craig and Toni Collette are able to take what they’re given the farthest, creating engaging portrayals that rise above the rest.
Overall, Knives Out is a whodunit that subverts genre expectations to tell an entertaining story filled with humor and colorful characters, yet fails to achieve its aspirations of being something more than simply a solid watch. The story possesses an unreliable narrator quality that thrives, but deviates from that path in favor of convoluted reveals. Still, the final product is an enjoyable one that invites repeat viewings. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone looking for a clever film that’ll keep you guessing.