This is a crime thriller that’s been a long time in the making. Mystery fans rejoice: ‘Knives Out’ is an impeccable cinematic achievement, laced with sardonic wit, division and conflict, and of course a perplexing puzzle. This is easily one of the most fun films of 2019 - it’s both a brilliant piece of entertainment and beautifully crafted enigma. Sit back, relax, and try to crack the code.
- Charlie David Page
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Knives Out has been shown in numerous festivals, and it received massive acclaim in literally every single one of them. Therefore, its hype grew more and more until its wide release date. Before the film, I can’t deny that I was indeed affected by the whole “a whodunnit like you haven’t seen in years.” I went into the theater with high expectations, not only due to the festival praise but due to its jaw-dropping cast. It’s uncommon to possess such a renowned ensemble and deliver a “bad” movie, especially when Rian Johnson is writing and directing it (yes, I like The Last Jedi, and even if I didn’t, he did other stuff, you know?). It’s one of those films everyone knows it’s going to be appreciated by a considerable part of the world.
Even the genre itself is a very welcome type of cinema entertainment in regards to both critics and the general public. So, does it live up to its hype, or it fails to reach such high expectations? Knives Out is one of the best movies of the year, as well as one of the best mystery-suspense stories of the millennium (everyone is doing the whole “best X of the decade,” I’m going one step beyond). This is a film I know I’m going to rewatch countless times throughout the next years. Usually, when it comes to whodunnits, people are misled into thinking that from the moment they know who “did it,” the movie loses its interest. This is rarely true, and Rian Johnson succeeds because he doesn’t need the ultimate reveal to deliver a great story.
This screenplay is definitely getting tons of nominations and wins during the awards season. Every little line of dialogue means something. Every single character says or does something impactful to the narrative (except for Jaeden Martell’s). It’s been half-a-day since I’ve seen it, and for every question that my brain comes up with, there’s an answer lying on someone’s words or actions. It’s such an intricate, complex, extremely subtle script. One with so many tiny, little details that it’s impossible to catch them all on a first viewing.
I genuinely love the first act, even if it’s the one where I have a minor issue. Rian Johnson doesn’t waste time and puts us directly in the crime scene, interviewing each and every member of the family. It’s through these interrogatories that he cleverly introduces the suspects, developing them solely through masterfully written dialogue, and outstanding performances. For example, with a single sentence and a particular body/face expression, Toni Collette instantly creates a profile of Joni, her character. Rian plays with character-types and cliches in such an intelligent manner. He makes us think a particular character follows a specific cliche, then it doesn’t, then it does again…
That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t figure out the mystery until the last act reveal. Every time I was close to indeed follow the right path, new developments arise, meant to mislead, confuse, and create doubts. Some people feel better with themselves if they solve the case before the film. They feel “intellectually superior” just because they found out before everyone else. First of all, I prefer being fooled and end up blown away by an unexpected conclusion than solving the whole thing way before time’s up and end up disappointed and bored. Then, honestly, anyone who says, “I guessed it,” there’s a 99% chance that they’re either lying or not answering correctly to the question “who killed Harlan?” If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand what I’m trying to express.
(I don’t want to sound presumptuous or hypocritical. I’m not trying to say, “I couldn’t figure it out, so no one can.” Please, if you haven’t seen the film, judge the previous paragraph after your viewing.)
Throughout the second and third acts, loose ends start to tie up, ending up with a brilliantly delivered reveal. From the marvelous cinematography (with those classic close-ups when a character is about to say something meaningful or tell a story through their imagination or memory) to the remarkable editing, the team behind Rian Johnson did a phenomenal job. The suspense is held at high levels, and it reaches limit-breaking points with Marta Cabrera’s (Ana de Armas) narrative. Armas and Daniel Craig deliver the standout performances, with Chris Evans (Ransom) following right behind. Literally, everyone else offers excellent displays, and help carry a story filled with mystery, but also with a lot of humor.
However, I have to emphasize how astonishing Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig are. Ana might be a bit unknown to most people. I’ve been supporting her ever since Blade Runner 2049, so I’m ecstatic that she finally got a major role in a big movie, especially within an ensemble of actors with legendary careers. Craig, who could have just delivered a slight variation of the character he’s been playing for years, instead offers a unique take on the Detective role. Just like Evans, both have been playing iconic characters for years, so it’s sort of an extra joke to everyone who watched Captain America and James Bond for the past decade or so.
My only minor issue has nothing to do with the political undertone and the social messages Rian Johnson puts in this film. Honestly, I love that aspect of it. It’s like Rian knew some people would complain about it, so he made sure to have a couple of characters (Jaeden Martell’s Jacob and Katherine Langford’s Meg) somewhat resembling the so-called snowflakes and all that. No, my issue is related to some excessive exposition regarding the first act’s interrogatories. It’s great that every character gets their own motivations, but it feels like each confrontation with the detectives went on for a bit too long. Some pieces of the mystery might be a bit hard to believe that they would occur, but these are all nitpicks in a remarkable movie.
In the end, Rian Johnson is able to bounce back from the divisive The Last Jedi with one of the best whodunnits I’ve ever seen, Knives Out. Rian proves that not only he’s a talented filmmaker but also a phenomenal screenwriter. With a renowned and impressive ensemble cast, Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas are standouts within all of the other outstanding performances, Chris Evans being right behind. With one of the best screenplays of the year, the mystery at its center keeps everyone extremely captivated until the very end, even if you guess “who did it” beforehand. Masterfully written dialogue, remarkable editing, and great use of classic cinematography techniques. It’s an entertaining story with tremendous replay value and significant political/social layers that only elevate the already complex yet subtle narrative. Don’t miss it!