Watch this as soon as you can…
Knives Out is absolutely brilliant. Directed by Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi), it is a homage to the murder mystery/whodunnit film, such as the adaptations of Agatha Christie, but updated for the modern day. Not based on any source material, the film is original, despite being very clearly influenced by an established genre. It knows the whodunnit genre inside out, and knows exactly what the audience knows too. Backed up by a stellar cast and consistently amusing writing, Knives Out is a must see. A pure delight.
The performances from everyone in this ensemble cast are superb. This helps make the characters fascinating. Daniel Craig plays Benoit Blanc: an amusingly overwritten character that is a joy to watch. The Deep South accent is deliberately cliched but pleasing to the ear. Chris Evans, fresh out of Avengers: Endgame, plays the asshole outsider who relishes in being the most hated one in the room. The rest of the cast play the family of the deceased very well. They all appear to be caring, but ultimately selfish, in their own ways. Every character is memorable and entirely unique in comparison to all the others. Watching them all interact within the confined space of the mansion (magnificently brought to life by the set designer, who gave the mansion a character of its own), is so much fun. You want to learn more about them as the mystery at the heart of this homage to the whodunnit genre unravels.
What also helps is the writing. There are some great lines here. The one about donuts is brilliant for being absolutely dumb and convoluted. The “twisted web” one sounds like it is taken straight from a pulp fiction novel, but it is delivered well and fits the tone. “CSI:KFC” hits the funny bone hard as well. The over the top tone of the dialogue, walking a fine line between dumb and brilliant, adds welcome sprinkles to an already well-written narrative. Expectations are subverted throughout. It is relentless. Most mystery films have a good five or ten minutes to allow the audience to digest what they have learned following a big twist. But the twists keep on coming regularly and until the very end. This film has a remarkably tight grasp on audience expectation and knowledge. It knows how to trick you into thinking you finally have all the answers, only to twist that on its head, and then twist it back again to what you originally thought. Even the “reveal” scene necessary to all whodunnits is not safe from the constant subversion of expectations.
Many of these twists and turns serve to help shape this film’s message. Ana de Armas plays a Brazilian nurse called Marta. At the centre of the story, Armas delivers one of the most compelling performances of the film. The entire film is about her treatment within the family. From the beginning, you know all you need to know: Marta was not allowed to go to the funeral, despite being closest to the deceased. She is not “real” family, even her supposedly closest friend tells her. Whether the family member is an outright racist, an internet troll, or someone pretending to be woke and caring about Marta’s struggles, they all hold her in contempt. Without giving too much away, there are layers upon layers of different character knowledge at play throughout the film. To get the most out of the film’s message, pay attention to Marta is treated as these revelations appear. Knives Out may be a lot of fun, with an exhausting amount of twists and turns, but it has a lot to say too.
Rian Johnson, for better or worse, is known for manipulating expectations. Think you know everything will happen before the film begins? You do not. With The Last Jedi, this received some backlash for apparent contradictions with the rest of the franchise lore of Star Wars. Knives Out has no such ties. You can enjoy these clever twists, subverted expectations, convincing red herrings and deceptive characters without worrying about whether hyperspace can really be used like that. Performances and writing blend together perfectly to create a satisfying and thrilling whodunnit. There is not a word to describe the fun and enjoyable nature of this film. Released in the UK on 27th November, look for your cinema’s next available showtime. Watch it as soon as you can!