REVIEW: ‘Knives Out’ a delightful departure from murder mystery movies

Promotional artwork courtesy of Lionsgate.

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is an entertaining murder mystery which follows the classic tropes of the genre with its own unique flavor added. Unlike other such movies, Knives Out establishes certain expectations and stereotypes and it turns them on its head in the most surprising of ways.

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), an acclaimed writer who has amassed great fortune throughout his career, has been found dead and his family, like a murder of crows, comes to take a piece of the estate for themselves. Each member of the family is awful.

Marta (Ana de Armas), a nurse of Harlan’s, is the only honest person in the house and the only one who knows anything about what happened to him. So, when three detectives (Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan, and Daniel Craig) come by to resolve the matter, they utilize Marta’s knowledge and begin to unravel details which only convolute the matter.

The film is extremely nontraditional as within the first hour the mysterious death of Harlan is learned by the audience. But the films purpose isn’t to discover who did it but rather to shed light on the background circumstances that lead up to Harlan’s death. The circumstances of his death are extraordinary to say the least.

In terms of directing and writing, Rian Johnson, known for Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is able to utilize his strengths to make an entertaining film. Looper, the sci-fi action film, was extremely well-written with a thought out plot and an immersive experience. These same traits can be found in Knives Out. In terms of narrative, this film is well done because the story is unlike any other similar movie; From the 1985 film Clue to the more recent murder mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, Knives Out follows a narrative trajectory not found in this genre.

The cast is star studded consisting of many notable names such as Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and many more. With all this talent, the film does not squander the wide range of opportunities they have with these actors. Each character is presented in a caricature like manner but the quality acting brings realism to these characters so that the whole film doesn’t feel absurd. The stellar acting is what keeps the audience engaged as the plot unravels and the events that occur are contextualized. If any random actor was selected to play these roles, due to the nature of the script, many viewers would have checked out within the first 30 to 40 minutes of the movie. Many actors were utilized in ways that many audience members would not be accustomed most notably Daniel Craig and Chris Evans.

Each character is presented in a caricature like manner but the quality acting brings realism to these characters so that the whole film doesn’t feel absurd.

A star-studded cast portrays a greedy family descending upon the death of their patriarch in Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out.” Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Daniel Craig in Knives Out is sensational. Craig is known for his performance as James Bond, an austere character known for being reserved and calculating but his performance as a private detective in this film is the complete opposite. The detective he plays is much more open and talkative with a far less serious demeanor about him. Many times in this film, Craig’s character invokes laughter from his antics on screen and is often the highlight of any scene he is in which is unlike James Bond who would rarely ever be called funny.

Similarly, Chris Evans did a phenomenal job in portraying Ransom, a spoiled brat with minimal respect for anything except himself. Like Craig, Evans portrayed a character that sharply contrasts that of his most recognizable performance, Captain America. Evans is able to play a jerk near perfectly and you will quickly forget that he ever played Captain America, the poster boy for good. Such flexibility from an actor who has only ever been cast in roles where he plays a likeable character is what adds depth to this film. 

There were, however, some drawbacks to the film. Most notably the pacing is quite slow. The first hour and 30 minutes is extremely slow with not much happening besides questioning and walking around. It attempts to compensate for it by adding a number of details that seemingly add to the overall plot but much of these details become red herrings. So, the film could cut out a lot of scenes without losing much of the plot.

Knives Out is a fun movie to watch with family and friends about what seems to be a classic murdery mystery when in reality it presents a whole new narrative structure to an age old genre. As such, it is worth the money to go see this film.

Knives Out is rated PG-13.

Anuraj Nair is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

Leave a Reply