KNIVES OUT review by Mark Walters – Rian Johnson helms an all-star murder mystery

KNIVES OUT review by Mark Walters – Rian Johnson helms an all-star murder mystery

Click on image to see it full-size.


Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned murder mystery? The new Rian Johnson movie KNIVES OUT is exactly that, featuring a stellar cast that includes Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Jaeden Martell, Katherine Langford, and Christopher Plummer. I saw this at Fantastic Fest, as it was the closing night film of the festival, and let’s just say it was a great way to cap off a week of interesting productions that would undoubtedly get moviegoers talking. I’ve said it before, but it should be interesting to see how this plays, as some folks are still harboring some pretty strong negative feelings over Johnson’s work on STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (a film I enjoyed, for what it’s worth), though his previous films BRICK and LOOPER are considered quite good by many. Johnson has proven himself with dramatic material, but KNIVES OUT plays more fun and comedic in its execution, which for a murder mystery is always smart.

Renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by his maid at his estate just after his 85th birthday. Members of his rather dysfunctional family are gathered to be questioned by Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), who are joined by the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Each member of the family wonders why Blanc is there, as the suicide seems simple, but Benoit suspects foul play, and begins to replay the events surrounding each and every person in the house before Harlan’s demise. He joins forces with Harlan’s nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to find out all there is to know, but in this group it seems no one is truly innocent.

Films like these usually follow a familiar path – setting up the characters together, an unexpected death, retracing the steps, exposing the suspects, and then the big reveal. KNIVES OUT feels very by the numbers at first, then goes in a very unexpected direction that shows the audience this is not going to be typical in any way. Writer/director Rian Johnson finds a way to take the tropes of this genre and mix them up in a new and different style, while still maintaining the more satisfying aspects of this kind of film. The cast is filled with exceptional performers, all looking like they’re having a blast playing their respective characters. Among Harlan’s family, Jamie Lee Curtis is the bossy older daughter, Don Johnson her unfaithful husband, Michael Shannon the ambitious but disrespected son, Riki Lindhome his disapproving wife, and Toni Collette the flighty and flirty younger daughter… and then there’s the grand kids, Jaeden Martell as the Alt-Right-minded internet troll, Katherine Langford is the superficial type, and Chris Evans as the jobless and very cocky sort. Most of them get their share of memorable screentime, with the possible exception of Langford and Martell, who seem a tad underdeveloped. Even LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan get some fun and sometimes scene-stealing moments (particularly Segan, he’s hilarious), but it’s Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig who really shine here, with Ana becoming an unexpected strong lead for the story, and almost giving the audience the feeling that we know more than everyone else on screen… except that’s the brilliant part, we don’t. And while there’s considerable time spent in the Thromby home, much of the film takes place outside of it, with de Armas and and Craig chasing leads that are connected with the events at the house. In many ways, this is a murder mystery that has to solve clues that came up outside of the actual mystery, and it works brilliantly well.

The only shortcoming of the film is its length, running a tad long at two hours and ten minutes, and dragging a bit just before the final act… but when it hits that final act, it’s a tremendous amount of fun. The last 20 minutes or so are some of the most entertaining of any film this year, and will leave you with a big smile on your face. The production also smartly establishes the Detective Blanc character as someone who could easily take on further adventures, and Daniel Craig really sinks his teeth into the role, even sporting a comically Southern accent that somehow works quite well for the British actor. KNIVES OUT is one of the most satisfying and charming movies of its type, and should hopefully earn Johnson some forgiveness from those bitter STAR WARS fans that just can’t seem to get over THE LAST JEDI. It’s a reminder of just how good he can be behind the camera, and also shows how good he is at handling comedy. If you like these types of films, this should be a welcome treat, and even if you aren’t into murder mysteries you’ll likely still enjoy what you get here. Rumor has it Hollywood is working on a CLUE remake, and if so, Johnson just raised the bar on ’em.

KNIVES OUT opens November 27, 2019

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.