Director Rian Johnson returns to the mystery genre in the delightful Knives Out from Lionsgate. Crime novelist Harlan Thormbey is hosting his own eighty fifth birthday with all of his family in attendance. His relatives include his grandson Hugh (Chris Evans), daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), son Walter (Michael Shannon) as well as Linda’s husband Richard (Don Johnson) and Walter’s wife Donna (Riki Lindome). Harlan also still keeps contact with his son’s widow Jodi (Toni Collete) and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford).
As luck would have it, Harlan is actually closer to his personal nurse and caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas) than those in his own family. The morning after his party, Harlan is found dead. Police detective Elliot (Lakeieth Stanfield) thinks it was a suicide, but when a mysterious private investigator by the name of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) shows up, and has a theory that Harlan may’ve been murdered, is when the fun mystery of Knives Out begins.
Rian Johnson dabbled in the mystery genre in his debut feature, 2005’s Brick. While I’m in the minority of fans who enjoyed Johnson’s entry (The Last Jedi) in the “Star Wars” franchise, it was great to see the director return to the mystery genre. Johnson, who also wrote the script, makes the crafty choice to let the suspense build in the film. While the first thirty minutes or so may drag for some viewers, once the film picks up steam, it never slows down. Initially the script for Knives Out follows the usual murder mystery template we’ve seen before. We see suspects interact with Harlan in flashback sequences and we learn that Harlan has life alerting secrets on each of them. However, right around the forty-five-minute mark, there’s a game changing twist in the film that I didn’t see coming. Kudos to Johnson’s script for getting over on an experienced movie viewer as myself.
The acting in Knives Out is top notch and it’s crystal clear the cast had a great time making the film. Chris Evans erases any traces of Captain America in his portrayal of Hugh. Evans acting style became so transparent with that of a hero these last seven years that I forget he got his acting start in the comedy field. Portraying a playboy comes natural to Evans and hopefully he returns to comedy in the future.
Daniel Craig is also very good in the role of Detective Benoit Blanc. Craig, who hasn’t done anything memorable since his last James Bond appearance back in 2015, seems right at home playing a Kentucky P.I., accent and all. Should Johnson decide to create a franchise around Detective Benoit Blanc, I would fully appreciate it. The standout for me in the cast though has to be Ana de Armas as Marta.
Throughout her thirteen-year career, Armas’s beauty has often played second nature to her acting ability, which is a shame since she’s naturally talented. Instead of attempting to turn the character of Marta into a “Femme Fatale”, Johnson’s script paints the character as good hearted with no ulterior motives. The makeup and costume choices for the character of Ana are spot on, and I found myself able to easily identify with the character. Ana de Armas is on her way to the A-List and Knives Out should be the film to get her there.
While I was able to figure out who the culprit was in Knives Out just from the previews, the fun in the film is the journey and twists director and writer Rian Johnson gives the audience. When the final reveal did occur, my wife and I both gave each a look with the silent sentiment, “how did we miss that”? Knives Out is not only a great time at the movies this holiday season, it’s one of the best movies of 2019.
Final Grade A –