Knives Out Review: This Whodunnit Is A Masterful Thrill Ride
Rian Johnson’s new film is a crafty little movie that gestures toward some big, bad things.
What a relief Knives Out must have been for writer-director Rian Johnson. This clever whodunnit, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, comes two years after Johnson’s entry in the Star Wars canon, The Last Jedi. That film, a stirring and busy space opera continuation, not only required Johnson to follow certain studio strictures, but was also met with an ugly and vocal backlash by some Star Wars fans who felt Johnson had violated their precious thing. That must have been exhausting and frustrating for a filmmaker so possessed of individual interests.
At least, I assume so. Which is partly why it’s such a pleasure to watch Knives Out, in which Johnson can return to his old Brick sensibilities and play around in a terrarium entirely of his own invention. The film rolls and bounces with giddy elation, Johnson and his troupe of actors clearly enjoying themselves as they entertain. Knives Out is exactly what I’d hoped last year’s Bad Times at the El Royale would be but wasn’t: a throwback movie spun in an engagingly contemporary vernacular.
The film concerns an old manor house owned by a rich family and the sudden death of its patriarch. Was it a suicide? Or is something more foul afoot? That’s the game the film sort of does and sort of doesn’t pursue. Johnson tweaks the usual structure of drawing room murder mysteries to deliver something a bit hipper and more subversive. The gambit works quite well, and Knives Out surprises as much as it satisfies our desire for the traditional way of things.
Knives Out sharpens old murder-mystery tropes with a keenly assembled suspense outing that makes brilliant use of writer-director Rian Johnson’s stellar ensemble.
Acclaimed writer and director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) pays tribute to mystery mastermind Agatha Christie in KNIVES OUT, a fun, modern-day murder mystery where everyone is a suspect. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death. With an all-star ensemble cast including Chris Evans. Ana de Armas. Jamie Lee Curtis. Toni Collette. Don Johnson. Michael Shannon. LaKeith Stanfield. Katherine Langford and Jaeden Martell. KNIVES OUT is a witty and stylish whodunit guaranteed to keep audiences guessing until the very end.
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material)
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson
In Theaters: Nov 27, 2019 Wide
Runtime: 130 minutes
What are the Crictics saying about ‘Knives Out’?
Charlotte O’Sullivan (London Evening Standard)
Johnson, on temporary sabbatical from the Star Wars universe after The Last Jedi, has used his time well. Murder he wrote – and what a writer he is.
Kevin Maher (Times – UK)
There is some savvy subtext in Rian Johnson’s writing, about old money and Trump-era values. But mainly this is exceptional cinematic froth, and murder at its most mirthful.
Caryn James (BBC.com)
Best to remember that those old movies Johnson embraces were really not that great, and to bring lowered expectations to his entertaining but scattershot update.
Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
A silly, stabby, supremely clever whodunnit that only really suffers from having too little room for each of its talented players to fully register in the film’s limited run time.