Knives Out user review

  • A tight knit script, but Rian Johnson's greatest mystery remains unsolved - how to put together a cohesive last act.

    What I admired, for the most part, was that the movie knew exactly what is was. A self-proclaimed 'whodunnit' which revelled in the trappings of its genre. A loving, almost nostalgic, wry take on the thrills and silliness that drive the interest to periodically revive murder mysteries on TV and film for mass markets every few years. Had Knives Out come in a lull in that cycle of popularity it would have been a sparky reminder of the things about these stories that are so much fun. In fact, had it come out earlier, it would have been placed perfectly to kick start a revival itself. Sadly, it comes two years after Kenneth Brannagh's disappointing all-star Murder on the Orient Express which, while not directly interacting in Johnson's movie, was a prime example of how, regardless of stylish trappings and stellar casts, murder mysteries can often be stale and overwrought. What that film got wrong (self-seriousness, ludicrous 'action' set pieces) Knives Out deftly avoids, generally, taking pleasure instead in the intricacies and detestable scheming characters.

    Though given a decidedly modern twist, the characters all fall comfortably into archetypes, stereotypes and fun caricatures. Daniel Craig inhabits the outrageousness of being a master sleuth perfectly, beautifully ridiculous name, accent and all (Benoit Blanc meet Hercule Poirot. You'll get on famously).
    Johnson's inspirations are the lifeblood of the movie, made more enjoyable when they flash overtly through the background details: Clue and Murder She Wrote make two unobtrusive but fun appearances, and it's this playfulness with genre that keeps the film engaging and fun.

    Johnson doesn't just pull from other sources, though. The plot might be a very typical murder mystery but, to Rian Johnson's great credit, it's woven together in the first half with the professionalism of someone who is an old hand in the genre. As well as his comfort with these genre conventions, his own stamp is all over the film, in the opening shots of a house full of puppets (yes, guys, that's a metaphor), in the tableau shots of the family all together and in the sincerity of the character Marta. It's also present in the commentary of the movie. Johnson has gone on record as saying that elements of Knives Out take inspiration from the backlash following The Last Jedi and that comes across clearly. You might even say it sticks out like a sore thumb. A couple of underwhelming barbs relating to "Nazi boys" and "SJW snowflakes" and an almost entirely unnecessary (if pretty funny) character are supposed to appear as the director trying to interact playfully with his own reputation but come across as out of place and clumsy.

    Special mention to Daniel Craig, of course, but it was also quite fun to see Chris Evans return to his arrogant asshole roots. Special mention to Frank Oz who steals all his scenes and Noah Segan as the joyful audience cypher and whodunnit nerd Trooper Wagner. Ana De Armas does a great job of being the, mostly, serious anchor, Marta though one of her roles seems to be to keep the film from tipping over into farce, something I can't decide is a blessing or a curse.

    Throughout the set-up there are flashes of real devilishness. Little hints of ridiculousness, slapstick even, poking the audience to anticipate something really silly. I was perfectly ready for the film to stay an intricate murder mystery, or for it to run full pelt into ludicrous mischief. Instead, the final act fumbles the tone and asks us to accept
    a jump scare, horrific death and spider on the face
    an overly earnest car chase
    and
    an entire coroner's office building being burned to hide evidence leaving the police with no leads

    Despite this, the movie deftly picks up all these dropped juggling balls for its expertly crafted denouement where the characters are all asked to step into the accusing parlour for a bait and switch and one of the movie's funniest moments.

    Knives Out is thoroughly entertaining and undoubtedly one of Johnson's most cohesive movies but somehow it still managed to cement in my mind that Johnson is 'that very talented guy who can't really write a good third act'.

    Grade: B+

    Pros

    • Tight script
    • Witty
    • Mischievous
    • Satisfying

    Cons

    • Uneven third act

    Scores

    8

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Knives Out

Comments
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Author
Tom Davies
Review score
8 / 10
Average score
8.0 / 10
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