Knives Out (2019)
After dazzling all with his sci-fi actioner Looper, directing the greatest hour of television with Ozymandias (Breaking Bad) & helming the penultimate episode of Star Wars saga with The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson returns with an intelligently plotted & ingeniously directed murder mystery that attempts to revive the whodunnit genre by both embracing & subverting it in equal measure. With a star-studded ensemble who all chip in with fab inputs, Knives Out makes for one of this year’s finest films, and is certainly amongst the most entertaining.
The story of Knives Out is set into motion when the patriarch of the wealthy Thrombey family is found dead the next morning after his 85th birthday. Initially ruled as suicide, the case is revisited after a renowned detective is enlisted by an anonymous source to further investigate into the matter & see if any foul play was involved. As he questions each family member & staff who were present during the last gathering to connect the dots, he learns more n more about the dysfunctional family & must filter out their self-serving lies in order to uncover the truth.
Written, produced & directed by Rian Johnson, the story is gripping from the get go, and remains that way until the end. The premise set up is quick, character introductions are swift, and the juxtaposition of lies & truth provided to the audience offers them a better glimpse into each character’s persona. By taking the whodunnit template and turning it on itself, Johnson goes further than just merely following the tropes as his film becomes a completely different puzzle as plot progresses & more details pour in, all without ever sacrificing the genre’s pleasures or affecting the narrative flow.
Johnson’s assured direction makes this film an endlessly enjoyable & wildly entertaining ride but his script is just as impressive, expertly balancing all subplots in a manner that only adds to the suspense while painting the bigger picture at the same time. Add to that, the rich, well-defined & interesting set of characters inhabiting this tale infuse additional flavours to what’s already a delicious cuisine. The twists & turns are aplenty, as expected, but what makes it riveting down to the last frame is how the film never for once loses its momentum and keeps us invested in its mechanics with effortless ease.
The majority of the plot unfolds in a mansion, and the production design team does well to fill the place up and decorate the setting with appropriate props & artefacts that aptly reflect the family’s wealth & fortune. The fluid camerawork, smart manoeuvring, sharp focus, detailed imagery & precise lighting helps capture each moment in a clear, concise fashion while Editing skilfully juggles & intertwines multiple storylines into one tightly-knitted structure that allows the audience to play the game while at the same time stays one step ahead of them. And the pacing is so breezy & perfect that time simply flies by.
Coming to the performances, Knives Out features a stellar ensemble in Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette & Christopher Plummer. Craig plays the inquisitive & debonair detective called in to solve the case, and delivers a fascinating input that only gets better with time. Evans is totally relaxed here, and plays his role with carefree demeanour. The rest contribute with top-notch efforts as well, getting along well with one another while holding their own. But the real show-stealer, apart from those sweaters, is de Armas whose character is at the heart of this story, and her modest & beautifully nuanced performance provides the film its very soul.
On an overall scale, Knives Out is one of the sharpest, smartest & slickest examples of its genre that presents Rian Johnson at the top of his game, for he is aware that the viewers like playing detective when it comes to whodunnit stories, and so he devises his modern take in ways that finds new means to pull the rug off our feet, defy our expectations and surprise us every now n then. Also, where many similar examples tend to shock viewers with a final revelation, Johnson’s latest opts for an outcome that’s reasonable enough to wrap the film on a wholly satisfying note. A masterwork of suave direction & sly writing that’s further boosted by a stellar ensemble that delivers on all fronts, Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s best film to date. Strongly recommended.