Review: Knives Out (Moonlight Cinema)14 February 2021
Knives Out (2019) is a modern take on the wonderfully witty whodunnit featuring a star-studded cast and more clues and red herrings than you could shake a stick at (or in this case, a knife). Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper) manages to keep viewers so focused on what the left hand is doing that they miss the right, meriting more than one rewatch to catch all the delightfully devilish details.
Viewers are invited to investigate the suspicious suicide of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a renowned wealthy murder mystery novelist now seemingly caught up in one of his stories. Slashed throat and all. Daniel Craig steals the show as the tweed-clad, southern-drawled, gentlemen sleuth Detective Benoit Blanc, mysteriously employed to investigate suspected foul-play to gain the family’s sizable inheritance. He teams up with Harlan’s nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to interrogate the Thrombey family and uncover a trail of clues that proves something is certainly afoot.
The cast is supplemented by multiple other big names which allow the mystery to really come to life. Toni Collette plays Joni Thrombey, the aloof hippy influencer with her hand worryingly deep in dad Harlen’s pockets. Chris Evans does a one-eighty from his heroic role as America’s ass in the Marvel franchise to play the delightfully bratty, sweater-wearing black sheep of the family: Hugh ‘Ransom’ Thrombey. Jamie-Lee Curtis takes on the role of Linda Drysdale—the perfect daughter with a not-so-perfect marriage. The list goes on! It could be said that the cast is almost be too big. Some characters with great personalities such as Blanc’s hilariously fanboyish police underlings (LaKeith Stanfield, Noah Segan) simply don’t get enough screen time.
The setting and ambience of Knives Out (2019) cut straight to the heart of what a murder mystery is all about—violins and creepy old mansions. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin has worked on multiple other projects with Johnson and continues his streak with another beautifully shot story. Almost every key plot point is revealed out of focus or centre frame. He keeps the characters in the dark while allowing audiences the missing pieces of the puzzle in a perfect example of show, don’t tell. Similarly, composer Nathan Johnson and cousin to the director does a wonderful job of embodying the genre through sound. A full orchestra creates sweeping tracks, while keeping the melodies cutting and sharp. It’s a tremendous piece of work that is at once haunting and playful, mournful and exciting.
What Knives Out (2019) does best however is the essence of murder mystery. It keeps all the best parts of a classic whodunnit; larger than life characters, ridiculous accents, wild accusations. All while adding a modern flair in the form of pop culture references (Hamilton, anyone?) and a sprinkle of social commentary for good measure. Released in the era of the American Trump administration, the family’s ignorance as to which country Marta immigrated from as well as their disturbingly callous dinner discussion of refugees could all be seen as an underlying comparison to modern institutionalised classism. The political subtext adds to the plot and provides reasonable motives for certain characters’ actions, exposing a whole new level of foul-play.
Overall, Knives Out (2019) is all you could ask for form a modern murder mystery thriller. From a classic story to a wonderful cast and even better characters, Rian Johnson has done a brilliant job creating a truly masterful and genuinely fun revival of the old genre. A sequel has in fact been confirmed for sometime in 2021, if COVID doesn’t restrict filming schedules. So keep your magnifying glasses at the ready and put on your best poker face, ladies and gents! Detective Blanc’s work isn’t done just yet.