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Knives Out – Movie Review

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Knives Out – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Lionsgate

Murder mysteries, especially those with a bunch of people together in a singular location, are strangely appealing as we actively attempt to solve the crime along with the detectives. With Knives Out, director/writer Rian Johnson is able to flip the concept on its head. The entire film is like a modern update of Agatha Christie, albeit one that plays with the familiar formula. The movie is as much about exploring the eccentricities of family dynamics as it about figuring out whodunit. After a while, one stops trying to second guess everything and goes along for the ride. Knives Out does run a little long, but there is still plenty of cleverness to keep the audience entertained.

There is a self-awareness running through Knives Out, including the fact that the person murdered is a novelist who specializes in those kinds of stories. Johnson tangles an intriguing web full of layers and surprising revelations. The use of flashbacks is particularly inventive and not in the usual way we often see in murder mysteries. As is often the case in these movies, there are a lot of characters to follow. Some get more screentime than others, but each personality is properly laid out and we understand their role in this whole situation. All of the actors fit their characters excellently, although there are two stand-outs.

Daniel Craig’s southern private investigator makes an immediate impression the second he appears on screen. Craig plays Blanc as someone with the wheels constantly turning in his head as he tries to make sense of this strange death and the possible circumstances that lead to it. His interplay with Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan as two other policemen on the case is able to show their differing methods. Ana de Armas also delivers a great performance as she copes with her emotions related to the murder of her beloved employer. The squabbles among the family members lead to some of the funniest moments, as they seem far more preoccupied with their inheritance over anything else. Meanwhile, Frank Oz shines in a small role as the family lawyer.

Johnson does throw in a bit of social commentary related to the current political climate and it’s no coincidence much of the plot centers on a privileged rich family. Johnson appears to be saying something about the divisiveness happening nowadays, even among people of the same blood, and that leads to some humourous zingers as the cast argues with one another. At two hours and ten minutes, Knives Out does feel a little long as it heads into the third act. The screenplay retains its sharpness, but one almost wishes it got to the conclusion a little quicker. Thankfully, the climax ends the film on a high note.

If it remained a traditional murder mystery, Knives Out would still be an entertaining romp. However, Rian Johnson’s willingness to play with the conventions and throw us one fascinating twist after another is able to give the film its own identity. His use of flashbacks is especially clever and he handles the task of wrangling this large cast of veteran actors, franchise headliners and up-and-comers. Knives Out feels like the product of a filmmaker who has devoured many a mystery novel and is excited to put his own stamp on those stories.

Stefan Ellison

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