So Knives Out came out this last week. And despite my apprehensions, it was a phenomenal ride and one of the single most entertaining movies I have seen. Side note, we need more mystery genre movies.
Knives Out focuses on the story of the fictitious murder of an acclaimed writer Harlan Thrombey (played by the always great Christopher Plummer) what ensues after the grisly killing is the consistent discovery that everyone involved within the family tree and staff all have motives and secrets that they do not want unearthed. If this story sounds familiar, well that is kind of the idea. It is meant to be a very tried and true formula with a spin on the writing making it feel fresh and unique. I will not go into any spoiler territory but it does manage to simultaneously put you on the edge of your seat, scratch your head at the clues and entertain you with terrific writing and snappy performances. It does admittedly feel strange to write that sentence, the story is so tried and true in its basic formula, that I had very low expectations for the originality of the script and writing, it is truly one of the best screenplays that I have seen.
The cast here is simply outstanding, as someone who has a love/hate relationship with Rian Johnson’s choices in casting I was simply astonished at how well put together this crew really is. It feels like these roles were tailor made for the deliveries of these actors. Chris Evans as the dashing but dastardly type is honestly something that words cannot do justice to. Danial Craig as the daring detective is such an on-the-nose satire of James Bond that it is truly difficult to imagine anyone else ever having been offered the role. Jamie Lee Curtis is greatly appreciated in this movie, getting some real mileage out of her combination of charisma and wit to really sell her character. Last person I want to name specifically is Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon is one of those actors that I’m glad only comes around on a project every now and then. He seems to go all out every time he gets a role, he always amazes me with his dramatic and comedic range, and he is so effortlessly magnetic in his prowess that I always feel that he deserves a level of recognition within his filmography. While it is easy to go on and on about the ensemble, there are a couple of weak spots, just two duds in particular that dragged down the experience for me. Thankfully, the low points are not as much of an issue as I still understood and appreciated their purpose within the context of the story that was being told. As a whole package, this is the best ensemble of onscreen talent I have seen since Les Miserables (yes I made that a comparison, sue me I liked the film). Everyone is on their A-game, while a couple members of the cast did not appeal and felt a little out of place, they still felt like they gave it their all and the effort does not go unappreciated within this film.
The cinematography here is actually pretty stellar. I especially have to commend the set design and art direction team for this film. The location is full of so many amazing framing, architecture and lighting that I was having a full on eye candy feast. There are not a lot of complicated shots in this film, and you won’t go out of your way to study how a certain shot was achieved, unlike some of Johnson’s previous films, but if you have an appreciative eye for blocking and usages of natural framing within architecture, oh man is this a beautiful film. This extends to the use of color and editing within the film. Color is something that a lot of people will subconsciously notice, and this film really shows that Johnson has a very good eye for usage of color within his frame and character blocking. I fully expect this movie to earn a lot of recognition among essay writers and students studying film.
The music in this film is… It is good, but it did not jump out and grab me like some of Johnson’s previous films. It may be a case of everything within the frame is so mesmerizing that I did not pay particular attention to the score, but even after some perusing on YouTube and Spotify, I found that a lot of the tracks just did not do much for me and felt very haphazard. This is unfortunate when the rest of the film is of such a high caliber, maybe I just need to see this film again within this context and hear it within the movie itself again.
One last thing, the pacing in this movie is simply excellent. The timing of just over two hours is one of the best choices this film could have made. Everything feels like it flowed together so smoothly and so naturally that I paid absolutely no attention to the time that had elapsed. One of the biggest complaints I had about some of Johnson’s previous films was that the length could feel bloated. I got zero impressions of that from this film. It feels like it earned every millisecond of that two hours, and I was enraptured every step of the way.
Knives Out is a rare movie that fires on all cylinders and reaffirms that some genres should never die or be forgotten. It is both a wonderfully crafted satire, a terrific ensemble showcase and a reaffirmation in Johnson’s stellar eye for excellent cinematography, keen ear for sharp dialogue and a terrific sense of pacing. While there are some hurdles, no film is perfect, the pros far outweigh the cons.