Knives Out is an intelligent and lighthearted film, touching successfully on many emotions and different genres.
Murder mysteries have always been a popular genre of entertainment. The typical whodunit has been recreated in countless books, TV shows, video games and films, with Knives Out another take on this classic style – but with a modern twist. Featuring a well-known ensemble cast, quirky characterisation and strong performances, Rian Johnson’s film effortlessly inserts uncertainty into the audience as it leaves you questioning every aspect of its plot.
The premise of Knives Out is all about family matters gone awry, with the patriarch of the large Thrombey family, wealthy mystery writer Harlan (Christopher Plummer), inviting his relations to his estate for an 85th birthday celebration before shortly being found dead the next morning. With the unexpected arrival of private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), details of the night in question are shown in short fragments, including the incriminating arguments Harlan had with different relatives, ranging from emotional to financial confrontations. The intricate plot immediately tells you everything you need to know, but the many details are what lead to ambiguity, as you find yourself second-guessing every thought that you have about what is really happening.
Filled out with a phenomenal cast and featuring a Wes-Anderson-esque style of cinematography, the transitions between shots are bouncy and energetic. Accompanying this is constant, melodically erratic piano music that adds to most moments, inspiring a playful element that calls back to the earlier classic, cheesy whodunits, oozing a sense of nostalgia. A crucial part of this is Craig’s Blanc who, despite the confused Southern accent, puts out an effective and hilarious parody of Agatha Christie’s legendary detective, Hercule Poirot, while the host of ensemble characters each inject their own caricatured parody of archetypes littering the genre. It’s precisely this comedic approach and quirky filming style that lends Knives Out a truly unique quality. At odds to the melodrama is the stand-out performance from Ana de Armas, who plays the late Harlan’s nurse Marta Cabrera. De Armas and Plummer have fantastic chemistry, with de Armas able to capture a wonderful sense of character throughout, entertaining with continuous comedy as well as pathos.
Despite relying heavily on Marta having the medical inability to lie, the storyline is full of smart turns and frequent red herrings. That’s not to say Knives Out is perfect. With such a huge number of great actors bulking out the ensemble cast, you would imagine that they would all feature quite heavily in the film. However, around the halfway mark, these characters start to drop away and become more of a side-note, underexplored as the film shifts attention to the unravelling of the mystery. Craig, de Armas and Chris Evans’ Ransom carry the majority of the second half. Even though they are more than capable, it’s still a shame to see the other characters feature less and less as the list of suspects grows narrower.
The different avenues of inquisition make this an exciting and thrilling film to watch. It is not often that a movie can seamlessly integrate multiple genres, but Knives Out is definitely one to seek out if you’re looking for a well thought-out and touching comedy/mystery/melodrama/parody amalgamation.
Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, certificate 12A.