Knives Out is the latest film by Rian Johnson, and one of the best films of last year. Along with Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, it was one of the few box office hits of 2019 that wasn’t a franchise movie, and one of only three or four non-sequel, non-remake Hollywood films to break the 300-million-dollar earning point worldwide. It’s also the follow-up movie to one of the most polarising films in recent memory, Johnson’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Johnson got death threats on Twitter and probably elsewhere for his original take on the Star Wars franchise, and that is reflected in the characters he has written, including an alt-right troll and an Republican dad. Johnson wrote the film right after the press tour for his Star Wars film, although he had come up with the basic idea after making Brick—the backlash over Star Wars certainly played into parts of how the script ended up.
It was sold as an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, but Knives Out is really about the infighting within a family. It has a star laded ensemble cast, as did the classic Christie adaptations like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. The cast includes Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette and Jamie Lee Curtis, just to name a few.
Plummer plays a rich crime writer, Harlan Thromby, who dies just after he has invited his family to his mansion. It looks like it might be a suicide, but when local police come to see what happened, they arrive with Benoit Blanc (Craig), a world-famous private detective with a distinctive Southern accent. Blanc has been hired by an anonymous person to investigate. The writer’s estate is very valuable, so of course the will is of interest.
Marta Cabrera (Ana de Amos) had been Thromby’s nurse and a close friend, like a part of the family, but before long most of the family starts to turn on her. She is Latina, and that is important to the plot. The amazing ensemble casting sees all of the actors having a great time. There’s not a bad performance in there, but Chris Evans is particularly good as Ransom, the black sheep of the family. Evans is a good fine actor, but he’s stuck doing Marvel movies most of the time. Collette has a fun role as a lifestyle guru who is Thromby’s daughter-in-law. Michael Shannon is good as always in his part as the youngest son, Walt, who runs Thromby’s publishing company. Craig is also having an absolute ball, and was the first actor to sign up for the film.
Although Knives Out comes in at slightly over two hours, it’s well-paced, and very funny when it’s meant to be funny. It has a pretty interesting view of the racial dynamics of America and how they’re changing within one family and the people who are slightly outside of it. They could have done a bit more with Shannon’s son, the teenage alt-right troll, who is just ridiculous. There are plenty of plot twists and turns, although unlike most murder mysteries, you find out what really happened fairly quickly, which kind of turns the genre on its head.
It’s also beautifully filmed and designed—Johnson clearly used every cent of the budget to make it look fantastic. So although I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of whodunits, it’s one of the most radical films in the genre since the batshit-crazy The Last of Sheila.
It’s nice in this day and age that there are loads of extras in the package. There’s an in-theatre commentary with Johnson, deleted scenes, a making-of that’s around two hours long, a short featurette with Johnson and most of the main cast, plus a marketing gallery with ads, trailers and another short feature.