Knives Out (2019) Review

Rian Johnson’s first feature in two years since the hugely divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) is the kind of star-studded murder mystery that Hollywood doesn’t really make them anymore.

A nice change of pace from your usual Hollywood movie offerings these days, among the things that instantly caught my attention about Knives Out is the ensemble cast of older and current generations. I mean, look at the roster alone: Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Lakeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, Katherine Langford and Christopher Plummer. With such a stellar ensemble, it’s easy to figure that Knives Out would be a whole lot of wicked fun worth watching in the cinema. Well, we get to that later.

The movie follows the death of the head patriarch of the wealthy Thrombey family, Harlan (Christopher Plummer), who had his throat slit and found dead in the morning just after his last night’s 85th birthday. With everyone in the family is now a potential suspect — among them are Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Richard (Don Johnson), Joni (Toni Collette), Walt (Michael Shannon), Ransom (Chris Evans) and Meg (Katherine Langford) — it’s up to Lt. Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) as well as Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) and private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to find out the truth.

Juggling with an all-star ensemble cast can be tricky and while Johnson manages to give them rooms to shine with their respective roles, most of them — including the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Michael Shannon — are more like extended cameos. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy their acting performances in this movie. It’s just that I was expecting these cast members are given an equal amount of screentime to fully justify their presences.

Instead, Johnson chose to focus more on Ana de Armas’ character, who plays Harlan’s private nurse Marta Cabrera. Frankly, I didn’t expect she has considerably more screentime than the rest of the cast and I’m surprised that Ana de Armas is able to pull off a better-than-expected performance. I would say this is easily her best role to date since 2017’s Blade Runner 2049.

Other than Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig’s Hercule Poirot-like detective role as Benoit Blanc delivers both witty and charming performance, even though it takes some time for me to get used to his southern drawl. Then, there’s Chris Evans who clearly have a lot of fun playing the no-good grandson Ransom Drysdale.

The story, in which Johnson wrote the screenplay himself, combines a reasonably solid mix of black comedy and classic whodunit tale that reminds me of Jonathan Lynn’s Clue (yes, the big-screen adaptation of the popular Cluedo board game) back in 1985.

While it takes a while for Johnson to warm up with his twisty tale of murder mystery, the fun really starts — well, at least for me — once a crucial moment involving Ana de Armas’ Marta Cabrera and Christopher Plummer’s Harlan Thrombey come to the picture. From there, Johnson has a field day keeping the audiences hooked with his numerous witty dialogues, colourful characters and deceptively sleight-of-hand narrative beats that made the otherwise lengthy 130-minute running time feels like a breeze to sit through.

Although Knives Out has a couple of blemishes, I did have an overall good time enjoying it. It keeps me guessing who’s the real culprit from the beginning till the end — a result that made watching this movie in the cinema hall with a huge crowd all the more fun and entertaining cinematic experience.

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