Rian Johnson’s previous outings as both director and writer have caused some of the most substantial rifts in modern cinema. From his first feature Brick in 2005 to 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson has proven himself to be a superb, subversive, yet contentious filmmaker.
Knives Out continues this trend. Very obviously inspired by the work of Agatha Christie, the film follows the debonair southern American detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he investigates the death of a famous author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is also a patriarch of an eccentric yet hostile family.
The film has been described as a classic whodunnit murder mystery with ‘a twist’, a twist which is exposited and executed with expert class and ingenious wit. Johnson’s spin on the whodunit genre is an eclectic, suave concoction which matures exquisitely over the course of its run time, intensifying its enjoyment like a fine wine.
The success of Knives Out rests heavily on its screenplay, which is as equally provoking as it is hilarious; if you were expecting a standard, heavily drama-weighted storyline, then the momentous emphasis placed on casual humour may pleasantly surprise or heavily disappoint you, depending on which side of the ‘Johnson coin’ you sit on.
It is, without a doubt, one of the most consistently amusing scripts this year has seen so far. Even in times of suspense, Johnson weaves in some incredibly well-timed one-liners which not only ease the tension, but set the tone for what proves to be one of the funniest, and therefore most bizarrely engaging murder mysteries ever. Is it not distasteful to be laughing at people who just lost the heart of their family unit? Not with a script this comical, it isn’t.
The A-list cast that Knives Out boasts only enhances the sheer enjoyment that the film exacts. From Michael Shannon’s wonderfully cynical Walt to Toni Collette’s delightfully entitled Joni, each and every character plays a huge part in making Knives Out as idiosyncratic as it is. It is not the suspense that keeps the film enticing, but the interactions of the characters. It must be said that the overall payoff is not as satisfying as the build-up; however, this is likely down to the pure unadulterated fun of watching the mystery at hand unfold.
In setting his story in a distinctly contemporary America, Johnson has made the film so it is by no means timeless, but instead a response to the climate of current American culture. Knives Out is not ‘political’, per se, but there is a message to be received here on issues which especially concern modern society, particularly the topics of immigration and white privilege. The film can be powerful at times, but it is ultimately mocking a certain strand of popularly-held modern principles.
Knives Out, to put it simply, is raw cinematic entertainment. Johnson has created something truly special here, a film which may not please everyone, but deserves, nay, requires a second viewing at the very least.
Image: Movie DB