Film Review: “Knives Out” Delivers a Sharp Comic Caper

Film poster: “Knives Out”

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019) 3½ out of 4 stars.

There are so many winning performances in Rian Johnson’s new film, an uproarious whodunnit, that to name them all and sing the praises of each would take up half the review. Let us start with one, however: Daniel Craig (Spectre). There is no scene the man does not chew through with gleeful abandon in the role of Benoit Blanc, gentleman detective. Think Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, only without the mustache, and with a southern twang. As over-the-top as Craig may be, he more than suits the overall tone. For Knives Out is ostentatiously nutty and proud of it, whipping the audience into a comic frenzy only to layer yet another wild twist on top of what we thought was the final one. For those looking for a well-crafted good time, the movie more than delivers.

We open with a murder, discovered by the housekeeper of a Victorian mansion. The dead man is none other than celebrated mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World), patriarch of a clan of children, in-laws and grandchildren who would be nothing in this world without him. The tragedy of his killing (the body is discovered with its throat cut) is more than just the loss of one life, bad as that may be. In the aftermath of his death, what will everyone else do? And who is his heir? The reading of the will awaits …

As the police (led by LaKeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You) investigate, Blanc stands behind them, hired by an unknown party to sniff around. Everyone is a suspect, even the hapless nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas, Hands of Stone), who was the last to see Thrombey alive. Or was she? As the plot thickens (as it always does in this genre), so, too, does the web of intrigue around who did what spin and grow.

Daniel Craig, LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan in KNIVES OUT ©Lionsgate

From Chris Evans (Snowpiercer) to Toni Collette (Hereditary) to Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) to Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) to Don Johnson (Book Club) and more, many actors get a chance to strut their hammy stuff, all in line with an aesthetic that holds little back. Director Johnson (Looper) knows his way around such convolutions, keeping the pace manic, the puzzle solution hidden and the humor high. If at times the movie becomes a little too zany for its own good, it settles down, in the end, to a satisfying conclusion, with just desserts delivered to all who deserve them. I’ll take mine à la mode, if you don’t mind.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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