Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★★

For the fourth time this year I went to the theaters (gotta catch up on the big 2019 releases at some point), this time for a very welcome take on an old type of tale that I've been itching to see ever its announcement. Rian Johnson is no stranger to deceiving his audience and playing around with what they think they want, debuting on the scene with his classic noir-influenced Brick that mixed the vernacular slang of speakeasy times with high school cliques, and more recently took the Star Wars franchise to new (as well as divisive and, eventually, pointless) directions. With the level of trickery he employs, it makes sense that he would take a stab at the "whodunnit"-style of murder mystery for Knives Out, a film that stays smart throughout in how the mystery develops and unfolds, as well as acknowledging the changes in public climate since the Agatha Christie days.

Right off the bat the film excels in giving us a wide assortment of characters and allowing us to try and figure out just how they fit into things. Questionings to introduce each character and the possible motives for the death of patriarch Harlan Thrombey are delivered magnificently, clearly showing each member of the family as manipulative, lying, or untrustworthy in some fashion, with the exception of innocent nurse Marta, who's nausea as a result of lying proves relevant. Even with the seeds planted for the classic mystery archetype, Johnson toys around with the perspective of the case and how knowledgeable we are of the evidence, in doing so making anything beyond the first 20 minutes tantamount to spoiling the effect. With that said, the usage of red herrings and misdirection even when everything seems cut clear always ensures that trying to think one step ahead of where the plot goes is a difficult thing, and makes uncovering the facts all the more engaging.

As mentioned, using the framework of a classical mystery is fine and dandy, but Johnson also knows to work in current issues into his story in order to not only aid and provide further clues/evidence, but also to help stand out among other of its ilk. Politics become a clear divide in an already splintering family and reveal the hypocrisy inherent in both sides, with the more liberal side (health guru Joni and her beauty brand "Flam") abandoning the goodwill they put on once helping others becomes a risk to them, and the conservative side (son-in-law Richard with marital issues) extolling the proudness of immagrants that come into the States legally while also handing the caretaker Marta (whom the family can never remember which country she's from) a dirty plate like a lowly servant. Neither side is truly demonized (aside from the alt-right troll Nazi of a kid, which....fair enough), but the flaws in their beliefs serve to highlight their awfulness and how they, as part of the rich, their entitlement more than justifies how quickly they will turn on each other, especially once the plot thickens, as its hosts both new and familiar twists.

Above all, Knives Out has a damn good script that flows as intricately and involving as should be, and provides plenty of satisfying subversions that a mystery like this should. One could easily extol the film as the highly accomplished work it is, as well as just how entertaining the whole thing is, especially with detective Benoit Blanc that goes against the "smart asshole" archetype so many movie/TV detectives have become as of late, instead going for the brilliant, charming, and more than eccentric personality that provides plenty of great lines (I could listen to him talk about "donut hole" analogies for hours). With a large ensemble like this some characters are gonna feel somewhat superfluous aside from one important scene, but the raw humor, smart writing, and well-filmed direction that utilizes an assortment of angles and usage (or non-usage) of negative space to create an evolving visual palette make for what is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year (now I just need to see more than 5 good ones from 2019).

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