Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas
Genre: Thriller / Comedy
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, inquisitive private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously hired to investigate. The initial cause of death is suicide, however Blanc suspects otherwise, and he must now untangle a web of deceit and self-serving lies amongst Thrombey’s dysfunctional family – every member of which is a potential suspect.
Everything about Knives Out confirms that is very much as unashamedly a pastiche as it is a genre piece. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that in isolation, but it does make it harder to criticise some of the film’s problems, in the same way when criticising some aspects of films by Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film’s they can simply respond with “that is part of the point – duh!” For example, a lot of the characters in Knives Out are criminally underused and are just lazy, forgettable, two-dimensional caricatures. Rian Johnson could well argue “that is part of the point” (he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to use the word ‘duh’). Well, maybe it is part of the point, but then that would just further confirm that there is an unmistakable and rather distinctive waft of smugness and self-indulgence about the whole film that is unmerited as it is by no means a great film, merely a distinctly average film.
The cast and everyone else involved in Knives Out do seem to be having a great time. Well, good for them, as I am sure it was great fun to make while also getting paid generously at the same time, but they seem to be oblivious to the classic rule of ‘the more fun everyone has making it, the less fun people have watching it’, but while watching Knives Out we the audience certainly do become increasingly aware of it. Though there are some good, amusing individual lines and scenes in Knives Out, and it is most certainly a perfectly watchable film, it is not especially challenging or gripping, nor is it ever as funny or clever as its slightly hubristically smug tone suggests all involve believe it to actually be.
Knives Out is very much a film in the vein of the classic Agatha Christie stile whodunnit, and it does deliver an initially quite interesting setup, but this quickly settles into a reassuring easy to watch and unchallenging story that just lacks any genuine edge to ever truly grip as much as it seems to so desperately want to. Knives Out is certainly never boring, but its most important pay-offs and twists are just not constructed well enough or are just two plain predictable to ever provide a viewing experience that is anywhere near satisfying, shocking or memorable enough to elevate this film out of forgettable mediocrity. Likewise, the film is often amusing, but never laugh out loud funny, even though the film has certainly been very much marketed as a comedy.
A film of this nature should of course have red herrings as well as bluffs and double bluffs, but Johnson seems too focussed on the main twists and reveals of the plot (which are not particularly surprising) to pay enough attention to the rest. So, all the supposed red herrings and loose ends that will take us viewers off the scent are so lazily done that they are obvious, and so do sometimes just feel like unnecessary filler in what is an overlong running time of 130 minutes.
Having a great cast can often lead to lazy and complacent writing, and despite some of the lame subplots and generic characters (with a few exceptions) within the narrative, the all-star cast do not disappoint and certainly elevate the often-mediocre material. The scenes they all share together are often made all the better by the performances and the actors pushing each other, it is just a shame they were not given a script that was darker and took some more risks. With a cast like this and Rian Johnson having his own band of fans, Knives Out was always destined to do okay at the box office (the posters state ‘A Rian Johnson whodunnit’ after all!), so instead of playing it safe with the 12A rating and middle-of-the-road content it would have been nice to see him take more risks and make a far more edgier film. A film can be playful while at the same time being edgy and taking a few risks, but for whatever reason, Rian Johnson just does not want to take any, which is both a shame and a waste.
In their limited and generic roles, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer and Don Johnson are all great, while at least Ana de Armas, Chris Evans and Daniel Craig do get a lot more screen time to be able to develop their slightly more fleshed out characters. Daniel Craig (complete with a ridiculously over emphasised Southern drawl) chews scenery like nobody’s business in a character which is beyond cliché (which is of course part of the point), but he is at least very entertaining to watch.
Knives Out is certainly not a bad film, but it is just a very average one that is perfectly watchable, but just very forgettable. It also most certainly does not yield repeat viewings, as whereas some of the very best films that rely on twists are actually worth repeat viewings, as they not only reveal further secrets but also knowing the twists can make repeat viewings feel like a very different experience ( like Shutter Island ), but Knives Out is just about watchable the once, and then will be forgotten very quickly indeed. Ultimately this is very frustrating, because with a bit more focus and risk taking it could have been the uproarious and deeply gripping whodunnit thriller it should have been. What a waste.
A watchable and entertaining enough film, but not one that is anywhere near as good as it should have been. Knives Out seems too busy being pleased with itself to actually fulfil its potential and utilise its great cast and concept. The perpetrator of the biggest crime is undoubtedly the script.