March 18, 2020

“Knives Out” Review: A Spark of Life for the Mystery Genre

Daniel Craig stars as eccentric detective Benoit Blanc.

It’s a premise seen thousands of times before, both on the page and screen. But this time, it’s not as simple as Colonel Mustard in the Drawing Room with the Revolver. Rian Johnson’s latest film, Knives Out, is a complex and layered whodunnit with an ensemble cast that brings a fresh and exciting take to the debatably exhausted genre.

The excitement starts after Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by his housekeeper. The death is ruled a suicide, but a police investigation, spearheaded by detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, sporting a thick Southern accent), might prove otherwise. At the center of it all is Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who was closest to Harlan and is therefore key to the investigation.

The film makes sure we’re intimately familiarized with Harlan’s expansive family, including Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Walt (Michael Shannon), Joni (Toni Collette) and Ransom (Chris Evans), most of whom have families (and secrets) of their own. The ensemble cast is utterly stellar and every scene featuring the family is addictively fascinating.
The ensemble cast in this film is brilliant.
Even though Marta is the protagonist, the real scene stealer of the film is Craig’s Benoit Blanc, a charismatic and well-spoken private eye who works well as a stand-in for the audience. He deduces things as we do, plays the game as we must, and provides simplified understanding into the mind of a master detective. And for everybody familiar with Craig from his (very British) James Bond outings, his heavy southerly accent takes a little getting used to, but after having seen Knives Out twice, Benoit Blanc has become my favorite Daniel Craig character.

Another element of note is the soundtrack, composed by director Rian Johnson’s cousin Nathan Johnson. The film begins with a sharp violin note that escalates into the opening theme, which later becomes the solo piano theme of the Thrombey family. The rest of the soundtrack is nothing short of exciting, adding to the suspense and ambience thoroughly and contributing to the atmosphere nicely, in neatly every scene.

Knives Out works on many levels, but it boils down to an exhilarating murder mystery, made all the better by Rian Johnson’s wit, finesse and humor, and the all-star cast which astounded and impressed all through the film with their shared ability to command attention and rule the room. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely both times I’ve seen Knives Out, and I’d daresay its worth even a third viewing to catch all of its hidden details and twist set-ups.

Even when you think you know the story…think again. [Grade: A+]

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jaime Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material
Available: Amazon Prime
Fun Fact: Despite playing his mother in the film, K Callan is six years younger than Christopher Plummer.

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